FX Network Releases Analysis of Peak TV and Reveals the Ratings for Your Favorite Fringe History Shows
Many of you have probably heard about the phenomenon of “peak TV,” a term for the overabundance of television programs currently airing across the broadcast, cable, and streaming spectrums. According to an analysis conducted by the FX network, primetime alone saw 1,415 television series in 2015. Obviously, no one could watch them all. However, in releasing their analysis, FX provided us with some data that cable networks have been trying to keep secret, namely the total number of viewers who watch their programs.
In the case of programs touching on subjects of interest to us, this is the first time that we’ve seen some of these numbers. The reported ratings include all viewers over the age of 2, and FX used the highest reported rating for a program, which may not accurately represent its overall average viewership. Among the interesting entries:
A few shows had too few viewers to be measured, including Ancient Case Files and UFOs Declassified.
And this is just a selection of series on historical mysteries and monsters; I didn’t even list all of the paranormal, psychic, and ghost themed shows, nor did the FX list account for one-time specials like History’s 2-hour Atlantis documentary.
What’s particularly intriguing about the ratings is how the viewership of these programs fails to correlate to the media attention lavished on programs with far fewer viewers. For example, the critically acclaimed Inside Amy Schumer—a program I like very much—had 1,440,000 viewers but commanded media attention in a way that the much higher rated Oak Island or Hunting Hitler simply did not.
More to the point: FX’s Fargo, with 3.1 million viewers, Golden Globe winner Mr. Robot, with 2.743 million on USA, and E!’s Keeping Up with the Kardashians, with 3.2 million viewers, all attract fewer viewers than Oak Island and yet dominate popular culture, primarily through the media attention given to them in excess of their actual viewership. In raw terms, only 1 out of 100 Americans watches one of these shows, yet some dominate the conversation online and in the media, while others do not. It’s astonishing that more people watched a dud like Superstition Mountains than Doctor Who or Hannibal.
The issue, of course, is that programs that command news media attention are aimed at a specific segment of the audience—young, wealthy urbanites—while those that don’t make it into the mainstream media’s eye are those who aren’t part of the most coveted demographic, those middle aged or older, those with less disposable income, and those who live in rural areas. These also happen to be large segments of the audience for history and monster shows. The companies that own both the cable channels and the news media are happy to keep things this way since it funnels interest to the most demographically desirable viewers, who are flattered into thinking themselves representative of the public as a whole, while simultaneously racking up ratings among general audiences for legacy advertisers (read: stuff for old people), but the result is that the news media turn a blind eye to what large sections of America are consuming and crap goes unchallenged and unacknowledged outside the sliced-and-diced demographic bubble cable channels create around it.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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