A Media Buyer’s Take on Summer TV

As a media buyer, I’m intrigued by ratings, viewers and more. Summer TV used to be an oxymoron. Ratings were low and original content was hard to find. But I would argue we’re getting some peak TV during the summer. Here are just a few of my favorites.

The summer kicked off with the premiere of Game of Thrones on April 26. Ok, the show falls into Q2 but it extended into the summer with the finale at the end of June. The much hyped sixth season saw its highest ratings ever with 8.89 million viewers for the June 26 finale. This translates to a 4.4 rating against the 18-49 demo making it the third highest rated show amongst this target (behind The Walking Dead and Empire) of the year. When you add in streaming devices, DVR and on-demand views, the show has been grossing 23.3 million weekly viewers. So much of the joy of watching Game of Thrones is constantly wondering who's going to die or be resurrected on each episode, making it one of the few shows, other than The Bachelor, that incites group viewing. People have weekly get-togethers around watching the episodes. I actually lost a bet with a friend during such a group viewing which lead to me making a t-shirt featuring Jon Snow and saying “Keith is always right”. Like a Lannister, I paid my debt.

Both Lifetime and USA premiered their most ambitious and buzzworthy projects last summer:

  • Lifetime premiered UnREAL, a scripted show that follows the behind the scenes world of a Bachelor type show, which immediately got the attention of critics that might otherwise ignore a show on a network known for such programming choices as Little Women: LA (which appears to be a reality show following the lives of little women living in LA - not to be confused as a modern take on the Louisa May Alcott novel). UnREAL is dark, funny, and takes a critical look at what we do for entertainment.
  • USA premiered a Peabody Award winner, Mr. Robot – a show about a socially uncomfortable hacker, Elliot, who attempts to take down a corporate conglomerate. The show started slowly but gained more buzz and viewers. This year, it received Emmy nominations for Best Actor for Rami Malek (who is a total dream boat) and Best Drama. Christian Slater took home a Golden Globe for best supporting actor. I’m currently binge watching Season 1.

Both Mr. Robot and UnREAL are high quality, critically acclaimed shows from networks that often get ignored. Releasing the shows in summer has given them a chance to find a viewing audience that otherwise would be too occupied watching the hundreds of other options during the year.

Other favorites:

  • Preacher, produced by Seth Rogan and Evan Goldberg, is based on the comic by the same name, but is far from your ordinary comic book show. One of the first few scenes involves an elaborate fight on an airplane that ends with so much blood. So. Much. Blood. The three main characters are incredibly charming and truly sustain the show. It’s the number two new series on cable this entire year against A18-49 averaging a 1.4 live –plus-3 rating. The show has already renewed for the second season.
  • Perhaps the biggest surprise hit of the summer is Stranger Things - an eight episode Netflix show that takes place in the early 80’s in small-town Indiana, with people working to uncover what’s going on after kids have been going missing. I think people are responding to the nostalgia of riding bikes around the cul-de-sac with friends and the strong homage it plays to old school Spielberg flicks that are heavily featured in the show. Netflix never releases rating information, but if I judge simply on the number of think pieces and social buzz about the show, I’d say it’s a massive success. Granted, I’m very partial because I loved the show so much. I spent the last episode sobbing about friendship and innocence and family. I was a mess.

I encourage you to check out these shows. They’re all unique, taking TV in new areas and pushing storytelling in new directions. As media buyers, it’s giving new opportunities for Q2 and Q3 buys as three of the shows mentioned above appear on basic cable. The shows are inspiring strong fandom and creating an incredible weekly schedule for audience viewing. Plus, they’re spurring content beyond the show – content that brands can be a part of – even in summer.