The good news for Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. fans is that the show is getting strong improvements on their ratings in the L+7 (the rating that includes DVR views within a week of release). The bad news is that doubling a paltry number doesn’t make it a big number. Overall the show is still badly underperforming and will be a borderline renewal chance for ABC.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. was pulling in a .7/3 or .8/3 in the demo with just under two and a half million viewers as the first “pod” of Season 4 finished up, in the L+SD. (See below for an explanation of how to read ratings.) These numbers are relatively terrible. CW’s The Flash grabs roughly double the ratings and does so at a better time slot against far more competition. Another show that doubles up S.H.I.E.L.D. is The Middle, a solid ABC show but one which is hardly buzzy like ABC’s more famous sitcoms like Modern Family or Black-ish. Simply put, a major network like ABC has to be frustrated running so far behind a small network like the CW.
The flip side of the coin is that a lot of people are watching S.H.I.E.L.D. on their DVRs. With an 113% uptick in viewership (i.e. it more than doubled) Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.‘s episode from 11/30 was one of the biggest gainers in the L+7 across all network shows. The show multiplies viewers after the fact more heavily than almost anything on television, it’s just that the original ratings are so small that it’s hard to see victory even in adding another 113% on top.
Altogether, this is a poor sign for the chances of the show going forward. Season four has been on a steady decline since the season premiere, with the show dropping from a 1.1/4 to a .7/3, shedding around a million viewers. If that trend continues, hardly anyone will be watching by May. The show seems to be perennially on the bubble and the network has enough episodes to take it into syndication, so there isn’t much incentive to keep the program around. Adding Ghost Rider has seemed to work creatively and fan acceptance of that character has been great, but the viewers just aren’t around. One has to wonder if the core demographic of the comic genre is just generally more interested in binging it next summer on Netflix than watching an episode at a time on TV.
On the positive side, four things could help Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. stick around one more season. First, the addition of the Inhumans show seems in part to be a way of revitalizing Marvel properties on ABC. The announcements on that show have included some comments about how it might boost its cousin program on the alphabet network. Second, ABC and Marvel may like the show purely as a way to keep fans engaged. The crossovers with the films and the interconnection of the universe provide a platform for selling movie tickets. Few other shows can so directly push a company’s film division. Third, the Marvel fandom wants content. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. keeps the universe’s story alive in between films and Netflix shows. Some degree of fan service could come into play. Finally, there is a school of thought that comic or sci-fi fans are just a more valuable market than other TV viewers. They tend to be loyal and more apt to talk about things on social media. (Recent research showed that social media active sci-fi fans are 247 times likely to also share on social media about personal things like their high school, or are 44% more likely to use Snapchat.) If this is true, then certain products find these kinds of fans more important than the mere ratings would suggest.
At the rate things are moving, expect Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. renewal to be a tight decision to be made in May. Certainly, its cancellation would put a lot of stress on Inhumans to hit it out of the park. One can hardly imagine ABC running zero Marvel content for most of the 2017/18 season. For all your Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. news, stay up to date right here on MCUExchange.
GUIDE TO UNDERSTANDING TV RATINGS: When reading TV ratings there are two sets of information that can confuse you. One is the actual ratings and what they mean. Another is the time span associated with the rating. First, the ratings will usually appear in a format like “x.x/y with z million viewers.” X refers to the percentage of all TV-owning American households watching a particular program. Y refers to the percentage of American households, who are watching TV, who are watching a particular program. So Y is always greater than X because X includes a bunch of people who don’t have the TV on at a given moment. So, when we say Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. had a 0.7/3 with 2.4 million viewers, it means 2.4 million people watched, .7% of all households with a TV were watching, and 3% of the households watching something on TV were watching Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.. The second confusing data set is the difference between L, L+SD, L+3, and L+7. L means “live,” SD means “same day,” and 3 & 7 mean a number of days. Live ratings mean almost nothing and are rarely shared any longer because L+SD is readily available and more complete. L+SD counts live viewers plus those who watch on DVR before they go to bed, essentially. L+3 isn’t a commonly discussed metric but includes three days after broadcast. L+7 is the standard number to include DVR playback. So when we say “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. jumped from a .8 to a 1.7 in the L+7, that means that after factoring in those who watched the show after the episode release day, but within a week of that day, the show jumped from being watched by .8% of households to 1.7% of households. In all these numbers, the focus in on the “demo,” a group of people aged 18-49, because those people spend most consumer dollars. As such, they are the ones that advertisers really care about.