So the question on the minds of the million or so people who followed Rubicon to its first season end: will the series come back next summer on AMC? Its TV ratings numbers have been chronically weak all season.
And after a rally for its penultimate episode (the audience rose by
50 percent in total viewers and 26 percent in the coveted 18 to 49 age group bracket), ratings retreated from merely poor to abysmal for the finale. It came in 17th of 20 rated cable series. But that doesn’t necessarily mean the death knell for the freshman series, noted TV by the Numbers guru and co-founder Robert Seidman, during an interview I conducted with him by phone last week.
“If Rubicon aired on a broadcast network with the same relative ratings, it has no chance whatsoever of being renewed. But it doesn't air on a broadcast network,” he explained.
Other factors are involved. “At the end of the day,” said Seidman, “AMC is in it to make money.” There are two ways to do that, he pointed out, one of which is through advertising (which relies on the TV ratings numbers in order to sell commercial time).
But for cable networks, according to Seidman, “there’s not a lot of advertising revenue even for top shows like Mad Men and Breaking Bad.” Not even those shows are reaching more than a tiny fraction of the coveted 18-49 demographic. Ratings numbers don't mean as much to a series' fate.
On the other hand, he explained, “telephone companies that provide TV service [like Comcast] pay a monthly fee to AMC (or any cable channel) per subscriber. And those fees are easier to negotiate, perhaps, when you have Emmy award-winning shows like Breaking Bad and Mad Men.”
Although Rubicon has yet to win any awards (but I think it likely to receive a nomination or two come award season), Seidman wondered whether, since it’s not a real source of advertising revenue, Rubicon benefits AMC through “carriage fee” negotiations with the Cable providers. If it does, it may have enough value to be kept on next year's schedule. But, Seidman pointed out, AMC already has critically acclaimed, award-winning series. So does Rubicon hold any value, or is it merely taking up space?
The answer may lie in something more strategic than advertising dollars or carriage fees. “I think that the one unknown," suggested Seidman, "is that more [cable] networks are trying to do more and more original programming. So the big question that hasn't been answered yet is: with the, albeit somewhat tiny ratings Rubicon has had and with the critical acclaim, will they give it another season and hope that, okay, between various Rubicon marathons between now and next year that the ratings will be better in season two?”