Back in December, CBR took a look at the state of "Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." based strictly on the ratings and viewer numbers. It's been two months since we analyzed the show's health and four more episodes have aired during that time. Critical reception has gone up in the last few episodes, but how is the series doing in the actual numbers department? Many analysts have stated that the Marvel Cinematic Universe television series is on the bubble for renewal by the network -- the real question is, based on the numbers, do stalwart viewers have anything to fear?
For this round of analyzing "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.," CBR tracks how the show is doing in its timeslot, both in Live+Same Day ratings/viewership as well as Live+7 Day viewership, which includes DVR playback. Plus, information on how some of "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s" reruns fare against new and rerun programming, all of which should help form a better picture of the show's health.
Please note, I'm not an analyst by trade -- the intent is to present the facts and numbers as fairly and unbiased as possible to help viewers draw their own conclusions about the show's health at present.
WHAT ARE NIELSEN RATINGS?
Before digging too deep into charts and graphs, it's important to understand what these numbers mean. Nielsen ratings represent a percentage of viewers in a given age group; if a show gets a 2.6 rating for adults 18-49, it means that 2.6 percent of all 18-49 year olds watched that show during its live airing. Relatively simple.
While 2.6 percent might not seem all that impressive at first glance, keep in mind that -- as of 2010-11 -- Nielsen determined there were 131 million adults in the 18-49 age bracket. So that 2.6 rating in 2010 meant 3.406 million people watched the show during its live airing.
Why is the 18-49 demographic the most important? The short answer is that most ads are tailored to that age group, in large part because they're the people most likely to spend money. The higher the percentage of 18-49 year olds watching a show, the easier it is for networks to sell ad space and get more revenue out of a series.
That said, live ratings no longer give as complete a picture of the health of a series as they once did -- the advent of the DVR and next-day streaming services like Hulu can increase viewer numbers and ratings significantly, though how much it influences a network's approach to renewing a series remains pretty much unknown.
Another term to be aware of is "Sweeps." (It's discussed far more in the December analysis, due to the 2014 Winter Olympics stonewalling any new programming in February.) These ratings periods involve Nielsen sending out paper television viewing diaries to households across the country, helping provide a basis for program scheduling and advertising decisions for local television stations, cable providers and potential advertisers. Sweeps periods take place in November, February, May and July.
CHANGES IN ANALYSIS
December's analysis tracked "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." across episodes rather than by date. This time around, each data point will represent a date when the show aired a new episode. The analysis will also cover Live+7 numbers for ratings and viewership, which include tracking of DVR playback. The data is also organized to help analyze the series's strength in its time slot on ABC as opposed to other networks. Thus, the shows on other networks will not always be consistent, and deviations in programming will be noted as needed. As always, all data comes from reports posted by TV by the Numbers.
THE SEVEN-DAY FORECAST
We're far enough away from the previous episode of "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.," which aired February 4, to have Live+7 data for the entire run of the series to date. Here's an overview of Live+SD versus Live+7 for both ratings in the coveted 18-49 demo and for overall viewers in the millions.
The main noticeable trend here is that the numbers jumps over seven days are roughly equal proportionally across the board, and that the Live+7 numbers follow the same trends as the Live+SD. As in December, the series dropped steadily in both ratings and viewers since its record-breaking premiere, though it started to stabilize during the January-February run of episodes, bringing in a 2.2 rating Live+SD (around a 3.6 Live+7) and around 6.6 million viewers Live+SD (between 9.65 million and 9.77 Live+7) per episode. The series hasn't significantly fluctuated in the last three episodes, so it's possible the numbers presented represent a stabilization for the show -- a better evaluation will be able to be made once the March 5 return episode's numbers come in.
Perhaps most noticeable is the drop that occurred the first time the series went on two-week hiatus between November and December. The spike the series received on November 26 experienced a drastic drop off in both ratings and viewers, dropping below where it stood on November 19. Judging by the numbers, it is unlikely the debut of "Thor: The Dark World" did much to bring on and maintain new viewership.
That said, there's not really a clear picture of how the series is doing until we look at the bigger picture and how it competes against rival network programming.
THE NETWORK ANALYSIS
For the purposes of this analysis, we'll only examine "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s" numbers alongside that of programming in the same time slot on CBS, NBC, FOX and The CW. Below are the Live+SD numbers for both ratings and viewers for each day ABC aired a new episode of "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." at 8:00 PM. Please note that Live+7 data was not available for all networks, making it impossible to create a cohesive chart of each network's numbers during that timeslot over a 7-day period. FOX usually airs a 1-hour comedy block during that hour, leading with "Dads" and wrapping with "Brooklyn Nine-Nine."
Notes: NBC aired "The Voice" on 9/24, 10/1 and 10/15; "The Biggest Loser" from 10/15-1/14; and pre-coverage for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi on 2/4.
CBS aired "NCIS" on all days except 11/26, when it aired the "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" classic animated Christmas special.
FOX aired "Dads" at 8:00 PM and "Brooklyn Nine-Nine" at 8:30 PM on all days except 12/10, when it broadcast the 2013 American Country Awards ceremony.
The CW aired "Whose Line Is It Anyway" on 9/25; an iHeart Radio special on 10/1; "The Originals" from 10/8 to 11/12; an iHeart Radio special on 11/19; "The Originals" on 11/26; an iHeart Radio special on 12/10; a rerun of "The Originals" on 1/7 and "The Originals" on 1/14 & 2/4.
That is a lot of lines.
Again, there isn't much that's changed since we checked-in during December -- "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." is second only to CBS' programming (mostly "NCIS"), and most of the other networks have ratings and viewership that's pretty far off from ABC/CBS -- with the exception of two points: November 26, when CBS aired "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" against a new episode of "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." and the significant "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." December 10 drop-off, where it was closer to FOX's comedy block viewer numbers, though still way ahead in the ratings.
The newest data point not previously considered is NBC's programming, which is all non-scripted reality television. While NBC's ratings are below "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." for the most part (NBC's drop-off can be attributed to moving "The Voice" from the timeslot starting October 15, replacing it with "The Biggest Loser"), the viewer numbers are very similar once October 15 hits, with the Marvel Television series only recently pulling ahead with its more stable numbers.
Also of note on November 26 is that "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." could not pull ahead against the alternative programming of "Rudolph," though it's the closest the show has come to beating CBS' viewer numbers in the entire series run. This is the only week a new episode of "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." has not aired against a new episode of "NCIS."
VERSUS NCIS (AGAIN)
Looking at the graphs, there's one show that keeps "Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D." from leading its timeslot in scripted television: ratings and viewer juggernaut "NCIS." December's episode-to-episode analysis indicated that that "S.H.I.E.L.D." was the only scripted show that came close to matching the ratings "NCIS" brought in. While "S.H.I.E.L.D." is still second to "NCIS" when looking at the ratings and viewers by date, the new data indicates it's somewhat of a distant second.
Note: "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" aired 11/26
Looking at the Live+SD ratings, the drop off both on November 12 and on December 10 saw a more defined split between the two shows. Interestingly enough, "NCIS" ratings went up in many of the same places as "S.H.I.E.L.D." The stabilization of "S.H.I.E.L.D." in January and February is notable versus the slight uptick in ratings for "NCIS."
An interesting trend also emerges when examining the viewer numbers for Live+SD: that, for the most part, "NCIS" has grown its live audience over time after a drop-off on October 8 while "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." has not, with the exception of the November 26 spike. That said, keep in mind that "NCIS" is on its eleventh season and has a massive following. Comparing the Live+7 numbers of both shows also brings forth some notable trends.
Note: Data was not available for Live+7 ratings on the October 15 episode of "NCIS." Presumably because the reports available only cover those programs that post significant gains in ratings and viewers over the next seven days, it's likely that the ratings that week stayed close to the Live+SD ratings of 3.1.
"S.H.I.E.L.D." is far more competitive against "NCIS" in the Live+7 ratings, though still falls short during its stabilization period in January/February and "NCIS" pulls ahead. However, it's the trend that the Live+7 viewer numbers indicate that's of potential significance. While growth of "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." viewers has noticeably decreased since its record-breaking premiere episode, "NCIS" has managed to maintain and grow viewership over a 7-day period. While "S.H.I.E.L.D." viewers decrease, "NCIS" viewers increase.
THE RERUN SHOW
"Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." had data for four rerun episodes, as charted below versus timeslot competition for each date. All numbers are Live+SD.
Note: "NCIS" aired new episodes on 10/29 and 12/17, but aired reruns on 12/3 and 1/28.
The CW aired "The Originals" on all dates, but aired a re-run on 12/17.
FOX aired "The X-Factor" on 10/29 for the full hour; new episodes of both "Dads" and "Brooklyn Nine-Nine" aired on 12/3 & 1/28, while 12/17 aired reruns for both shows.
NBC aired new episodes of "The Biggest Loser" on all four dates.
Understandably, "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s" rerun numbers are weaker against new programming, but the significance of charting the reruns is that it manages to stay semi-competitive during its timeslot with scripted shows on FOX and the CW in terms of ratings. In one instance, the ratings for a re-run of "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." actually outperformed that of a new episode of "The Originals."
Although, if anything, both charts indicate the level of competition "S.H.I.E.L.D." is up against with "NCIS." Even for re-runs, "NCIS" viewer numbers are far above its competition. That said, the data indicates "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." reruns are competitive in terms of viewer numbers against all scripted television in its timeslot other than "NCIS." Reruns, though understandably less popular than the actual show, still get people to watch in numbers that are competitive with all other networks airing scripted television other than CBS.
Again, it's notable that "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." had its November 25 spike when there was no new episode of "NCIS" airing against it.
THE END OF SLEEPY HOLLOW
Before wrapping up, here's "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." as compared to "Sleepy Hollow," the other well-known new network genre show. "Hollow" aired its pilot on FOX one week before "S.H.I.E.L.D." on ABC, so the week of September 23 numbers are for the series' second episode. The final number is the season finale of "Sleepy Hollow," which has already been renewed for a second season.
As noted in December, "S.H.I.E.L.D." and "Hollow" both have similarities in terms of competition, although they air on different nights. In the previous analysis, I noted that the shows were surprisingly similar in Live+SD numbers despite the fact that -- at the time -- "Hollow" was lauded by critics as the season's standout new series, while critics generally expressed disappointment with "S.H.I.E.L.D." This still holds true when breaking down the Live+SD numbers by week when new episodes of "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." aired.
The comparison does, however, have its flaws. For most intents and purposes, "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." is not in competition with "Sleepy Hollow" -- unlike other comparisons made so far in this analysis. However, comparing the two shows still yields some interesting observations. First, with some major exceptions, the shows seem to follow the same trends over time. Exceptions for ratings include the week of November 11 (when "S.H.I.E.L.D." dipped, but "Hollow" rose) and the week of November 26 (when "S.H.I.E.L.D." rose and "Hollow" dipped). Viewers were largely similar, with the exception of the premiere episode of "S.H.I.E.L.D." and the November 26 spike.
However, an even clearer picture of how both genre shows are doing is demonstrated by the Live+7 numbers, which indicate that the trends basically continue up through the Live+7 numbers, but with increased values. The one major difference is that "Hollow's" ratings seem to flatten out a bit across the board.
Once again, it's worth pointing out that "Hollow," a show lauded by critics, exhibits roughly the same trends and pattern of descent as "S.H.I.E.L.D."
What conclusions can we draw from the data gathered? First, that Live+7 numbers, though higher, do not seem to dramatically alter the trends of the Live+SD numbers. However, "S.H.I.E.L.D." has posted significant growth over the 7-day playback period in both ratings and viewers, which certainly suggests that there's a major audience that doesn't watch the show on the night it airs.
Although I would like to draw some conclusions about the success of a tighter connection to the Marvel Universe, it's somewhat difficult given the data. Ratings were actually up by .2 for the November 19 episode "The Well," which featured a connection to the aftermath of "Thor: The Dark World," but viewer numbers only increased by 260,000. Stan Lee's cameo in "T.R.A.C.K.S." on November 4, which was highly publicized in the comics community, did not increase ratings at all, and offered a similarly slight increase in viewers. The biggest indicator as to whether a tighter connection to the Marvel Cinematic Universe will bring in viewers will likely lie in the numbers for the next group of episodes, one of which includes a significant guest-starring role from Jaimie Alexander as Sif.
Oddly enough, it's also difficult from the data to predict what "S.H.I.E.L.D.'s" numbers will do when it comes back on March 4 after nearly one month off the air. The only precedent for a break that long was between December and January, when ratings and viewership actually increased. A close second would be the two-week break between the November 26 spike and the December 10 episode, which saw a significant decrease in both ratings and viewers.
It's also clear that the data indicates "NCIS" presents the most major competition to "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s" success. The fact that the show's viewers and ratings dramatically spiked on the one Tuesday when the two shows didn't go up against one another with new episodes is pretty telling. It'd be worth keeping an eye on how "S.H.I.E.L.D." does versus alternative Tuesday night programming on CBS moving forward.
It seems likely that the future of the show will depend on how the final episodes of the first season perform. Judging from the past few episodes, the show seems to have stabilized. Can it return with higher Live+SD ratings after a one-month hiatus? Only time will tell.
All data sourced from TV by the Numbers.
Stay tuned to CBR News for more coverage of "Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D."