Why promoting the show won’t help

In what should have been a ratings hit, "Disciple" only was able to get a 1.9 in the key demo. Proof that tired old storylines are running thin for viewers.

In what should have been a ratings hit, “Disciple” only was able to get a 1.9 in the key demo. Proof that tired old storylines are running thin for viewers.

The truth is in writing, not the promotion

I was talking with a former student of mine the other night (who’s also a Castle fan) and this person was telling me about the rampant and inconsolable fans on Twitter about how ABC wasn’t promoting the show enough. And then, with almost near immediacy when the ratings came out for Castle on Tuesday for Monday’s all new episodes, fans took to the internet to voice their disappointment with ABC’s decision to put a mediocre show as a lead-in for what could (should have been, in these fans eyes)  have been a stellar night for the series.

The problem is the low-ratings for “In the Belly of the Beast” have more to do with writing than the lack of promotion. It speaks volumes how veteran viewers are reacting to some of this season’s writing.

Whenever I see Monday morning marketing quarterbacks I always roll my eyes when it comes to entertainment properties. Too often it’s people who think they know about how to best market a favorite product. As someone who made six figures a year marketing products across various platforms, I can tell you there’s a science involved.

With the exception of say NCIS on CBS (television’s most watched drama), most networks peter out their promotion of vested series around season four. The reason? After four seasons, the show has built up enough fan base and causal audience base that sticking a 15 second promo during Scandal isn’t going to help boost ratings. Castle reached its max potential and isn’t going to grow beyond that.

Castle saw growth through its first four seasons and then in season five it started to trail back a bit. It’s not surprising that the network’s on-air promotion of Castle dropped back and converted into social media marketing during the show’s fifth season. The show was in syndication (where ABC is making about $2 million an episode) and it has a healthy cross-promotion with the Nikki Heat books and Derek Storm graphic novels. ABC should be commended for their mad marketing skills and creating an additional revenue streams for an outside-the-box police procedural show.

But, JC, Castle is having its best season ever, surely they’re doing something right. That’s the network using Jedi mind tricks on people. It’s called spin and like my brothers and sisters at ABC, I can sell that news to anyone any day of the week and twice on Sunday. My father used to say that I could sell ice to an Eskimo because I was so good at convincing people they needed something, and I was four at the time.

Best season in terms of time-shifted ratings, nothing more, nothing less. And best season or not, Castle is on tract to have its worst “live” season in terms of viewers, probably just edging out season one. Castle‘s “growth” has come from people not watching the show live.  This means the one million additional viewers on the time-shifted Castle is getting are watching something else during the 10 o’clock hour. My guess is they’re watching The Blacklist. The problem for networks is while Castle is enjoying just over 14 million viewers for a first-run episode, is how do we get that those three or four million to watch it live. You can’t. They’re locked into the DVR ratings.

So you have to bring in new viewers. It’s hard for a show in its sixth season to attract enough new viewers to off-set the one’s you’ve lost over the past several seasons. Shows then have to retain the viewer basis they have. And for Castlethey’ve been able to do that but it’s starting fall back and the recent slide in ratings proves it. Eight of the show’s 17 aired episodes have been in the 1.6 to 1.9.  Last year, the show only seven below a 2.0 in the key demo. In the preceding 81 episodes, Castle only had two episodes below 2.0.

Lack of promotion isn’t the cause for the decline in the ratings and increasing the promotion of the show isn’t going to help recruit new viewers. The show has lost nearly two million viewers since the start of the season in the live demo. That’s not the lack of promotion people—that’s people who’ve watched the show for a long time who have since stopped watching. And it’s not the lead-ins that causing the show to slide. Even with The Bachelor last year, Castle still consistently pulled above a 2.0 in the key demo. And you can’t blame it the Olympics, either.

It comes down the writing of the show or the lack there of. It’s the loss of direction for the viewers that have them switching off and watching something else. And no amount of additional promotion is going bring those viewers back. It’s not that forgot, they just stopped watching.

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