This sudden panic has literally set my brain ablaze. And quite frankly, I am writing this piece because the misinformation being spewed out by people has aggravated me. I intend on showing you the reasonable outcome here, and not fear mongering like some. Whether or not people are saying these things because they’re worried, or they’re insecure, or because they want to start a conversation for the sake of conversation, isn’t my concern. All I care about is getting everyone to take a chill pill.
1. WHY HAVEN’T THEY ANNOUNCED OUTLANDER SEASON 3 YET?!
Networks need a lot of viable IP’s (AKA Intellectual Properties) in order to compete in an over saturated market. As long as they have decent ratings, the networks will keep producing the shows that work. Also, season 3 announcements, virtually across the board, never come early (barring some outliers here and there.) As such, if we have not gotten an Outlander season 3 announcement by the time season 2 ends, then we have a problem. Until then, rest easy.
2. BUT STARZ RENEWS SHOWS DIFFERENTLY THAN EVERYONE!
You can’t say that STARZ renews differently than everyone because they announce the first two seasons usually in tandem or very close to each other. While that differs (slightly) from other broadcast networks, this is a relatively common practice for subscription networks like HBO, Showtime, etc.. (See: Game Of Thrones, Dexter, Ballers, Veep, Silicon Valley, Ash vs. Evil Dead, Homeland, Penny Dreadful, etc.)
Like I said in my previous article, networks must “wait and see” how their products are being received during the second season before they re-up on any further seasons of their IP’s.
Why bother renewing something if it’s not being received well after two seasons, right?
So, for the sake of posterity, I will include what I wrote about the “apples-to-apples” comparison of STARZ historical choices regarding season 3 announcements.
Season 3 renewal date: June 2012
Season 2 premiere date: March 2014
Season 3 renewal date: May 2014
Season 2 premiere date: Early June 2015
Season 3 renewal date: Late June 2015
But again, this is most certainly the exception and NOT the rule. Even in terms of STARZ alone.
3. BUT OUTLANDER RATINGS ARE DOWN! STARZ WON’T RENEW!
First off, the ratings are not down if you are comparing them to season 1. In fact, they are up! But, let’s dig a little further.
The premiere of Outlander season 2 has become the most popular premiere in the history of STARZ. You can read all about it here. To boil it down, Outlander overtook Power ‘s recent premiere record upon 2.01’s airing. I think it’s reasonable to assume that the show which holds the premiere record for the network is not going anywhere anytime soon.
But, lets talk about the specific ratings for each episode shall we?
Has Outlander experienced a dip on specific episodes? Sure. If you look at season 2, each episode’s ratings have seen a slight dip with each passing episode. But, let’s look closer at what the numbers say and what they actually MEAN. Here are the ratings for season 2:
All that mumbo jumbo basically says is that the amount of people watching the show totals to an average of 1.24 million people per episode.
Included in the table is also the 18-49 demographic (which is the main demo networks like to measure via the Nielsen Rating System). Most attention is paid to this group of people because they are usually who drive the trends of the industry. But that’s another conversation all together. So let’s just stick with the overall viewers. Viewers(mil).
But there are those big scary red numbers on the right hand column (% mil change) that show the ratings drops in percentages. “SEE!” the detractors will say. “The ratings are down!” But those numbers are the differences from the previous episode that just aired. That’s not differences from season 1. And they’re also not taking into consideration these facts:
1. Subscription networks (HBO, SHOWTIME, STARZ etc.) don’t care about ratings as much as they care about subscriptions and who is paying the bill. (more on this in a bit.)
2. Subscription networks care about prestige television and clout in the industry. Having Ron Moore gives a lot of clout, especially to a fringe network like STARZ (more on this in a bit.)
But let’s get back to the ratings game here for a moment and check out the ratings for season 1 of Outlander:
As you can see, the ratings have not gone down from season 1 to season 2. Those big numbers in the yellow boxes at the bottom? That’s actually the average million viewers per episode. Season 1 averaged 1.04 million viewers and went UP to 1.24 so far for season 2.
But let’s bake your noodle even more…
Let’s compare the first 5 episode average from season 1 to season 2:
Episodes 1.01-1.05 averaged .882 viewers (mil)! And as you can see above, 2.01-2.05 has averaged 1.24! That’s a .358 difference! Which means that Outlander (within the first five episodes of season 2) has had an INCREASE of 358,000 viewers per episode ON AVERAGE from the first to second season. Viewership has grown, and grown pretty well.
Again, who the hell is saying the ratings are down?!? Are they actually looking at them? And, no, I didn’t just make these numbers up either. You can find them all right here in plain sight.
I know all the tables and numbers can give you a popsicle headache just looking at them. I get it. But the numbers are there and they real. (BTW, these are just the LIVE numbers – I’m not even including DVR +3 and +7 – meaning the people who watch Outlander on a DVR 7 days within the premiere of the live episode) Those numbers just make the gap in ratings even larger in season 2’s favor.
Despite the increase in viewership from season 1, there will be those who say, again, that season 2 has seen a steady drop per episode. While they are technically right, they are not considering the context of the drops.
Every show, I don’t care if it’s The Walking Dead, Game Of Thrones, The Blacklist, or even The View, they all have an ebb and flow of ratings episode-to-episode. Look here for yourself – type in ANY show and you will see ratings go up and down and have streaks. It happens. Yes, even to Outlander. And guess what, it even happened in Outlander season 1 too. Look again at the numbers:
See episodes 1.10 thru 1.16? The average viewers start at .25, travel up and down with each episode and finally settle on .19 for the finale (which btw, also happens to be the lowest of the bunch in season 1.) Again, it happens.
4. RATINGS AREN’T DOWN, BUT STARZ HAS CANCELED A LOT OF SHOWS – WHY WOULD OUTLANDER BE ANY DIFFERENT?
Regardless of their ratings, BOSS, Party Down, CRASH et al., we’re horrible TV series. They were critically panned. Thus, canceled. As we all know, Outlander has not been panned, and has even been considered in the Emmy’s as well as Golden Globes. So there goes that reasoning.
But how does Outlander compare to the crown jewels of STARZ , Power and Black Sails?
Power averaged 1.24 million LIVE viewers last season and Black Sails averaged just over 1 million live viewers. So the connection here is that if STARZ’s crown jewels have the same live viewer numbers as Outlander, then I think Outlander is in safe waters.
5. “BUT OUTLANDER IS EXPENSIVE TO MAKE – DON’T THEY NEED THE RATINGS TO LEGITIMIZE THE COST FOR SEASON 3?
The budget for season 1 of Outlander was reported to be $75 million dollars. Which, would translate to about 4.69 million per episode. (Which does sound like a ton of money, but a show like Game Of Thrones costs about 6 million per episode). Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a reliable source to quote the budget per episode for Black Sails, but an article in the LA Times states:
“Black Sails” is an ambitious show. The big-budget, eight-episode first season was filmed in Cape Town on a massive backlot that contains a beach, a water tank with a life-size replica of an actual pirate ship and a fully functioning pirate town that stands in for the remote Bahamas outpost of New Providence Island.
Considering the on site filming, massive production value, the fact that it’s produced by the lord of destruction Michael Bay, and the cast is huge, it’s easy to assume that the production cost is the same, if not more, than Outlander. To that end, if the ratings between Black Sails and Outlander are relatively the same, the cost is the same, STARZ renewed Black Sails for a third season AND Outlander has now taken the number one rated spot for STARZ, then I think it’s fair to assume Outlander is going to be renewed for a third season too.
But, let’s reiterate this VERY IMPORTANT point – ratings are not the main metric of success for a subscription network.
If you want to know why subscription networks don’t care about ratings as much as broadcast networks do, I wrote a lengthy piece about this subject (through the lens of The Leftovers on HBO). You can read it here. But to sum it up, subscription networks aren’t beholden to advertisers like broadcast networks are.
Broadcast networks need commercials to pay for their shows, which is why you are able to watch NBC, ABC, CBS etc. for free. But if the advertisers don’t see huge numbers, they won’t buy time to advertise. So the networks have to care about the ratings.
But subscription networks count on subscriptions. As long as they keep putting out good content and getting the bills paid through their subscriptions, they can do whatever the hell they want. Thus, they don’t have to worry about ratings as long as the subscriptions keep coming in.
So here’s the next question, how are the subscriptions for STARZ performing? In the latest report of numbers last year, STARZ not only has the most subscriptions it’s ever had, but it actually just overtook SHOWTIME as the 2nd most popular subscription network once Outlander had premiered.
So trust me, while the numbers may not be huge, they’re big enough to consider STARZ as a relative success.
6. “RON MOORE IS ON ANOTHER SHOW – HE CAN’T GIVE OUTLANDER 100% AND IT’S A SIGN THAT STARZ IS MOVING ON”
There is no difference with this new Philip K. Dick series.
Sure, Ron Moore may be an EP, and he will even write some episodes. But what most people aren’t telling you is that the show is actually only a ten episode mini series and it’s going to be ran by a guy named Michael Dinner. Dinner is a veteran writer who made his bones under Graham Yost while Yost ran Justified.
You may or may not know this, but Ron Moore and Maril Davis (who is also an EP on the new series) co run Tall Ship Productions (which is the company that co-produces Outlander). Sony Television is the company that actually owns Outlander (and they use STARZ to distribute that show in the U.S.). But Tall Ship and Sony have a deal where they produce television shows together. So, since Sony Television is also producing the PKD series, they will utilize their producing partners in Tall Ship Productions (who are already in the UK where both Outlander and PKD series will be filmed) so it makes sense.
I also have a sneaking suspicion that even though this show will be aired in England, and since they already have a relationship with Tall Ship Productions, that Sony will be using the infrastructure they have created with RDM and STARZ as the vehicle to air the new PKD series in the US. It benefits Sony to do this because they have the prexisting relationship, and it benefits STARZ because it adds another high end drama (starring television darling Bryan Cranston no less) to their thin line up.
7. THE POWER OF RON D. MOORE
Here’s another thing to keep in mind – Outlander is Ron Moore’s baby. This is the most success he has had since Battlestar Galactica and it shows because he has essentially recreated his entire team from BSG. Why recreate that whole team, bring in your trusted confidant in Ira Steven Behr, and risk his multiseason deal with Sony, all for a ten episode miniseries one-off? The logic isn’t there.
And finally – here is what is as close to a smoking gun as we have via the Inquisitr:
According to Zap2it, the high ratings in Season 2 have led Moore and the rest of his team to start working on the next season. Starz has yet to green light a new season, yet there is little doubt that Outlander will be back for another year.
True, this is not an official confirmation – but given Moore’s optimistic nature when he says, “Nothing official yet but I’m very, very optimistic and we’re actively starting to plan [season 3],” then I think it’s probably as good as we’re going to get for this very moment as a confirmation. Yes, they could be planning for a pitch to STARZ, or breaking down story for what’s already a done deal behind closed doors.
You see, closed door deals happen all time – the most recent example of this was The Leftovers on HBO. HBO and Damon Lindelof had been negotiating for months before season 3 was announced. They had even reached a deal long before the announcement too. Again, this happens. You just never really are bothered to hear about these deals until it involves your favorite show.
Lastly, STARZ needs Ron Moore waaay more than the other way around. Their lineup of shows, while getting better, is not up to standard with other networks. Without Outlander, that big surge of subscriptions they experienced recently will suddenly go down the tubes. Think about it – would you be subscribing to STARZ if not for Outlander?
To have a prestige name like Moore’s attached to Outlander, which we have already established as STARZ’s most popular show, is literally worth it’s weight in gold. The only way the can continue to attract good shows, good talent, and consequently superior show runners, is to keep the talent they have.
To be honest, nabbing Moore was a huge coup for STARZ considering their lackluster rosters of shows and years gone by. They don’t want to risk their most valuable IP in Outlander, AND they don’t want to ruin their relationship with the only legitimate showrunner they have in their stable.
Believe me – when you start filtering through all the ratings, network politics, history of show renewals, the state of executive producers, network tactics and everything else discussed in this article, it’s clear to see that Outlander season 3 WILL happen.
It’s just a matter of time.
Also note that Tall Ships Productions produced two seasons of Helix while working on Outlander season 1. They have great teams of people and are able to manage more than one show at once. Standard practice.
I never thought there would never be a season 3, I knew viewship was good – I am a perfect example – I have never subscribed to paid TV and now I do, I am sure I am not the only person out there that can say they are a newbie. I was only concerned when I saw RDM had a new show to do, as I said I am a newbie and not sure how these things work. RDM has taken my favorite book series and has translated it to the screen with the utmost respect. I am sure that a season 3 will be handles with the same respect. Guess I just need a little patience.
Absolutely agree! I always thought that Starz would give Ron the first three books right out of the gate..they would be foolish not to. Outlander is the best show on Starz and your right..they want subscriptions that will be there all year long and Outlander will ensure that! Thank you so much for your great blog!
Blake, Thanks for the great article. I am wondering if you know why Season 2 was only 13 episodes when Season 1 was 16? Many of this season's episodes feel like they are running in fast motion, like playing a 33 record at 45 rpm. (Sorry for antiquated analogy!) Voyager (book 3) is extremely complex. I am really hoping that the hold up for Season 3 is the RDM is negotiating to get more episodes.
can I just say " I love you
and leave it at that?
There are interviews from sometime last year with Maril where she said 16 episodes nearly killed the crew. In the end, probably a combination of many reasons including that, budget, and scheduling.
I believe that the sets for #S3 are already being assembled in the studio complex in Central Scotland…..ergo, It would stand to reason that the rumours that a new series of OL is not going to happen are a load of tosh! Of course, time will tell but I am eagerly waiting a formal confirmation of this which I suspect is imminent. It will represent an increased commitment for Starz as Voyager will be more complex to bring to the screen, but if anyone can, Ron can!
Thank you for this lesson in reading ratings! I saw someone post on Diana's FB page about "rumors of declining ratings" and went to research it myself. But I couldn't understand the Zap2it ratings reports. And I used to work in television – but it was PBS – another media outlet not as tied to ratings (especially the 18-49 demographic) as main stream tv.
I read that they are considering dividing Voyager into two seasons to do it justice.
The thirteen episodes probably had something to do with STARZ scheduling commitments.
I think Season 3 is a lock but might they be in contract negotiations with some key folks? what would be a typical contract for them in this business? 2 years then renegotiate? I have no idea. I only say this because Terry Dresbach said via Twitter that (rightfully) she isn't in control of these things but also that she's not working on anything yet, she's not under contract for S3. And NO, this does not give anyone permission to assume/freak out that this means she's not on board.
Thanks for your insight! So logical and full of facts. I'm a believer!
Thank You for this Blake I always felt VOYAGER is a must,still a bit anguish over it!
I believe the major cast members (specifically Sam and Cait) are contracted for seven years, meaning they can work on other things but their number one commitment is to Outlander for as long as the show is on air. As for the crew, I am not sure but seeing as they are behind the scenes and can be replaced if necessary (not always the right thing but it does happen), I think they are on a year to year contract. But I am only guessing and will accept correction if I am way out in left field. 😉
Just think how much less complicated Terry's job costuming Season 3 will be compared to all that Parisian finery for the first half of Season 2. Also many of the Season 1 and second half of Season 2 costumes for Scotland can be reused for the Scottish part of Season 3.
Brilliant article Blake. Hope all who read it will become more patient & tolerant of the "Pay to View TV" industry. I believe RDM did say in the beginning that Sony was completely on board for all the books & STARZ was just the same & easy to work with. That said, if OL can keep up the quality & pace of past Seasons in the future, it's quite possible the entire book series will be available for our continued viewing pleasure. That would make every OL Fan very happy indeed!
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Thanks, Blake, for posting this. I, like many others, check several times a day to see if an announcement has been made about season three. Voyager is my favorite book of the series and I am eager to see it on screen. I assume that the delay is due to negotiations about the number of episodes or seasons for this book. The announcement of RDM's other commitment concerned me, but you have alleviated that worry. I know future seasons of OL will happen. Thanks, Blake, for discussing the "elephant in the room" and giving us a forum in which to voice our feelings!
Even though the major stars are usually signed to a 7 yr deal, it is not unheard of for an agent to go back in and attempt renegotiation — especially if the star has gotten great awards, accolades and reviews (Cait and Sam). Having been a talent agent, I can tell you this is something that was done for major tv shows quite often. Not sure if the landscape has changed that much or not.
Thank you so much for this article. I am one of those that was falling for the "experts" going around saying there wasn't going to be a Season 3 because of the ratings are down, etc. I swear they do it just to cause drama and angst. I understand things alot better now that you have broken it all down for us. Blake, you are awesome!
I just finished rereading Voyager. I would like to see two 10 episode seasons. A cliff hanger with young Ian, then begin with The Americas.
I just finished rereading Voyager. I would like to see two 10 episode seasons. A cliff hanger with young Ian, then begin with The Americas.
This also makes me wonder about viewing habits and how they have changed. I, for example, have yet to watch this season even though I am a big fan. I am saving them up to watch in a few binge sessions.
Wonderful article! Thank you for the detailed breakdown of how things work. I've been anxiously checking for the Season Three announcement, and been frustrated, and scared. You have thoroughly put my mind at ease, which is very much appreciated!
This article has probably been shared already… http://www.threeifbyspace.net/2016/05/outlander-exclusive-interview-maril-davis/#.VzzwxChiEnQ
That's exactly where I would cut it, as well.
Amen and Halleljah! Thank ye for the enlightenment. Good on ye! for the glad tidings.
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Great article an explanation of paid tv versus network in terms of subscribers versus advertisers. People are tweeting about live viewing – even people positioning themselves as authorities. Starz put money into building an app – Starz has Outlander on On Demand at 12:15 am EST – thus, it's not all just about live viewership to Starz. In terms of season 3, could it be Starz is waiting until their shareholder meeting in June to make the announcement?
Thank you Blake for helping to calm and educate Outlander fans!! I do agree with the theories of the delay about the announcement of a 3rd season is due to planning the number of episodes and splitting Voyager into two seasons since the book is complex with two timelines played out and a lot of major plot points to cover that are important to know for the future books.
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