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Canceled TV Shows: What Advertisers Learned from the Roseanne Cancellation

August 8th, 2018   ||    by Oriana Schwindt

So you’ve bought time in canceled TV shows. What next?

When Roseanne burst back on the scene in March after a 20-year absence, it brought with it an audience ABC hadn’t seen in years: a massive 5.2 live-same-day rating in the 18-49 demographic, and 18.4 million viewers, reported MediaPost.

Advertisers who’d been first on board were thrilled, and those who weren’t were scrambling to buy spots in scatter. Critical reaction was mixed, according to Variety, in part because co-creator and star Roseanne Barr’s incendiary political personality bled into the show.

But numbers are numbers, and ABC quickly ordered another 13 episodes set to air in the fall and made the series a centerpiece of their upfront presentation in May.

What Happened?

Barr finally sent a tweet that went too far, in ABC’s opinion. The network canceled the series just two weeks after the upfront presentation.

Timing, of course, is everything. Roseanne got the axe just as buyers and sellers were beginning their yearly dance around the acronyms (CPM, GRP). ABC’s ad sales team now had to deal with a huge dearth of audience.

So, what can advertisers learn from this show cancellation?

Know What Your Audience Watches

When a show gets canceled, your audience will find another show to watch—advertisers should have an idea of where viewers might turn next.

In the case of Roseanne, because the cancellation happened so many months before the show would have returned, media buyers and their clients had time to search for appropriate alternatives.

Some of these alternatives, according to Broadcasting & Cable, include:

  • Fox’s surprise hit 9-1-1
  • CBS’ Blue Bloods
  • NBC’s Chicago Fire

These are the series that TV measurement company Inscape found Roseanne viewers also watched, and which might therefore be suitable replacements for buyers looking for similar audiences.

Those shows, on other networks, don’t particularly help ABC, which now has to go through upfront negotiations without its crown GRP jewel. The network has ordered The Conners, a Barr-less version of the show, though industry experts don’t anticipate the replacement will bring in the same numbers.

Affiliation Matters

Though a show cancellation isn’t news any advertiser wants to hear, you can perhaps breathe a sigh of relief. Canceled TV shows have generally met their end for a reason. In the case of low-performing shows, it’s because they’re simply not cost effective. But advertising in a series that stirs up controversy can have a cost as well.

Barr’s penchant for tweeting out conspiracy theories and using racially tinged (if not outright racist) language meant it was only a matter of time before one of those tweets sparked calls for a boycott.

And whether you’re Pepsi or McDonald’s or simply the local car dealership, you don’t necessarily want to be fielding angry tweets or phone calls because you bought time in a show fronted by a person with poor impulse control. Protecting your brand’s reputation is important; the smart money sticks to the tried and true.

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