Tuesday, May 7, 2013

My ‘TVB Rant’ # 25: TVB’s Recent Ratings Slump – Is It Really That Big of a Deal??

First off – quick apology to the readers and followers of my blog for the lack of updates in recent weeks…I’ve actually got a long list of ‘posts’ and translations that I want to publish, but haven’t found the time to truly sit down and polish them off.  Hopefully those posts will get to see the light of day at some point in time (don’t want to promise anything though, since I’ve got a lot of stuff going on right now).

Anyway, while catching up on Weibo and other ‘happenings’ in the world of HK entertainment the past few days, I kept seeing headline after headline about TVB’s recent ratings slump (specifically in reference to the pathetically dismal ratings for TVB’s currently airing series Bullet Brain and Beauty at War) and the reaction from various people (from producers to scriptwriters to artists themselves) towards this issue.  After several hours of being inundated with information, I felt inspired to write this post and express my view on this whole ratings situation.

Before I start my rant, I have to make the following point clear (for the record) in terms of my position / opinion / stance towards the whole ‘ratings phenomenon’ in general (this shouldn’t come as a surprise to those who’ve read stuff I’ve written in the past, as I’ve mentioned this numerous times in various places).  Basically, my position is this:  I don’t give a ‘rat’s arse’ (excuse my language) about ratings – never have, never will!  

For me personally, ratings have never been a ‘reliable’ indicator of whether a program (TV series in this case) is ‘good’ or ‘bad’ because of several (very obvious) reasons: 

1)       Credibility:  Currently, there isn’t a consistent, universal way of calculating ratings that is the same no matter which part of the world you go to – this in itself I find to be a huge flaw, as having different companies each have their own method of calculating and according to their own set of criteria leaves way too much room for argument and dispute (case in point – just take a look at all those ‘arguments’ TVB and ATV constantly have about who truly has the most audience share and claims from both parties about each of their respective rating calculations to be ‘inaccurate’).  If there was only 1 way to calculate ratings and everyone used that same method, then we wouldn’t have any of these arguments – only then would the ratings truly be ‘accurate’ and ‘credible’.

2)       Curiosity Factor:  If you’re a human being, you will have a natural element of ‘curiosity’ inside of you, just like I do.  Unfortunately though, people sometimes seem to forget that this trait exists and ‘conveniently’ brush it aside in their attempts to justify how ‘good’ a series was based on how ‘high’ the ratings number was.  I mean, honestly, how many times have you heard the comment:  “Wow, that series got a 45 point rating – with so many people watching, it must be a good series!”  Um, wrong.  A lot of times, people tune in to watch a series (or part of a series) due to curiosity and not because the series is particularly worth watching --  audiences might be willing to watch a particular series / movie just so they would have something to talk about with their friends or co-workers the next day or they may have heard things about the series (good or bad) and decided to tune in (even if for a little while) just to see what all the hype is about.  I’m sure all of us have done this at some point in time (tune in to watch something out of curiosity) – I know I have, many times! 

3)      ‘Idol’ Factor: How many of us have tuned in to watch a series merely because actors/actresses we like are in the series and we wanted to show ‘support’ for him/her?  Or tune in merely because we are a ‘fan’ of a particular artist and therefore absolutely cannot ‘miss’ any series he/she is cast in?  I call this the ‘idol’ factor (watching certain series to support artists we like), but in reality, it’s not just referring to ‘idols’ or ‘fans’ (I just used the word ‘idol’ cuz that’s the first word that came to mind and was too ‘lazy’ to come up with another word) – it can refer to artists, producers, scriptwriters, and just about anybody who participated in the series in any way, shape, or form.  There have been many times where I’ve sat through ‘horrible’ series just to support certain artists I like (though when it comes to TV series, I do ‘cheat’ sometimes in that I forward through certain scenes / episodes / artists’ performances and only watch the artists I care about).

4)       External Factors: Basically, these are factors beyond our control that could impact audiences’ ability to tune in to a particular series and thereby affect ratings numbers – for example:  timeslot schedules, weather, natural disasters and other acts of God, holidays, and people pretty much just being ‘away’ for any reason (work, vacation, illness, etc. etc.).   Look at how many times we’ve had to ‘argue’ that a particular series could have gotten better ratings if it had been broadcast in a ‘better’ (i.e. non-cannon fodder) timeslot?  Or how about the weather?  I’m sure everyone probably remembers Three Kingdoms RPG hitting 42 points in ratings last year (one time in the series’ entire run) due to the typhoon in HK (and majority of people staying indoors due to safety concerns) – does that mean the series was any good, just because it broke the '40' mark?  (well, depends on who you ask cuz not everyone is going to remember down the road that the weather played a part in it).    So pretty much, in the complicated world we live in, anything can happen and that ‘anything’ can have a huge impact on something as ‘minor’ (in the scheme of things) as our TV watching habits.

Of course, I’m sure people can probably come up with more ‘reasons’ why basing any type of judgment of the quality of a series on ratings alone is ‘foolish’ and ‘unreliable’, but since these 4 reasons get the point across, I’ll leave it at that for now.

So in summary….. very simply put, ratings is merely a ‘quantifier’ – a number that tells us how many people tuned in to watch a particular show at a particular time.  Sure, quantity can perhaps indicate how ‘popular’ something is, but that is totally different from the ‘quality’ of that same something (it’s amazing how many people in this world confuse ‘quantity’ and/or ‘popularity’ for ‘quality’).   Quantity DOES NOT equal quality (by the same token, a ‘lack of’ quantity doesn’t equal a ‘lack of’ quality either)!  I can think of a whole list of series that got poor ratings but were really great series as well as ones that got ‘through the roof’ ratings but pretty much sucked….so yea, basically ratings are not a good indicator of ANYTHING (not in my opinion at least).


Ok, so now that I’ve clarified my position (no, I’m not done yet…in fact, I’m just getting started!  LOL), it makes what I have to say next a bit easier. 

Even though I personally could care less about ratings and I never use it to judge the ‘quality’ of a series, the unfortunate reality is that, like it or not, ratings are a HUGE DEAL to the TV industry.   In fact, such heavy emphasis is placed on these ‘numbers’ that ratings have pretty much become the primary ‘pass/fail’ indicator to the ‘quality’ of a series – in other words, ratings have become the ‘standard’ by which every series / program and even the participants themselves (artists, behind the scenes crew, etc.) are judged.  While, on the one hand,  I can understand why the TV industry chooses to use ratings as their primary ‘measurement’ tool, that doesn’t mean I agree with it – to me, using the ratings in this manner is merely the ‘lazy’ way out (i.e. it’s easier to take a series with poor ratings and just ‘generalize’ an entire series and the actors/actresses who participate in that series as “they all suck” rather than take each element apart and try to find the root ‘problem’ of the series).  But of course, as usual, I’m ‘in the minority’ on this subject once again, as it’s obvious that not many audiences think this way.

Given the importance of ratings in the TV industry (just remember that ratings = everything), it’s not hard to understand then why even someone like me would sometimes find myself ‘rooting’ for a particular series to get ‘high’ (or ‘decent’) ratings – I may not care about ratings, but everyone else in the industry does, so if I like a series, I would want it to ‘do well’ (ratings-wise) for the sake of that series’ artists and production team.  I know, it might sound a little contradictory at first, but if you think about it more deeply, you’ll understand what I’m trying to get at (ooops, sorry – I probably shouldn’t have used the words ‘think deeply’…people probably don’t want to hear those words anymore after watching Beauty At War…LOL).

Ok, since I’ve bored you guys enough with my long-winded rant, let me wrap things up now with a ‘quote’ that I came across on Weibo a few days ago.  The ‘quote’ is from former TVB ‘golden’ producer Gary Tang (鄧特) -- TVB fanatics probably know who he is but in case you don’t:  he was the producer of ‘classic’ lawyer-themed drama Files of Justice (all 5 installments) as well as the first installment of Healing Hands [key word is ‘first installment’ – he didn’t produce either of the 2 sequels because he already left TVB by then – this is important because it is widely believed that HH2 and 3 were never able to live up to the ‘glory’ of the first HH and a huge reason for that was because of the change in producer (which resulted in a change in direction/focus of the sequels)].

Apparently,  Gary Tang had been (quietly) observing this whole TVB ratings debacle thing from the sidelines and finally decided to speak up with his thoughts on the whole situation.  As an experienced producer with both ‘successes’ and ‘failures’ to his credit (he produced his fair share of ‘hits’ and ‘flops’ both at TVB and ATV), I feel that Gary’s words are quite powerful and telling and so far, the ‘closest’ match I could find to my own thought process on this whole ratings issue. 

To me, Gary’s message is simple:   let’s stop trying to come up with various excuses and trying to put the blame [for low ratings] on audiences.  At the end of the day, TV series are only a form of entertainment and audiences don’t ‘owe’ the production crew anything, so it’s unfair to place a set of ‘rules’ on audiences trying to dictate to them ‘how’ they should watch series.  The production team should accept the feedback (whether good or bad), reflect on it, and move on.

Definitely ‘words of wisdom’ from one of TVB’s most experienced and respected former producers / scriptwriters! (Note:  Gary Tang started with TVB back in the early 80s and participated in numerous series during that era as a scriptwriter.  Even when he was promoted to producer in the 90s, he still continued to do scriptwriting duties for the series he produced.):

Source:  Gary Tang’s Weibo (posted 5/5/13 at 02:18) [**Source link to be posted later]

“With regard to TV series’ ratings not meeting expectations, there have been various interesting discussions lately, such as:  the pace was slow in the beginning [of the series] due to having to introduce  many characters in the first episode; audiences need to have patience when they watch series; audiences must watch every single episode in order to understand the plot….etc. etc.  TV series are only a form of entertainment – audiences don’t have any obligation to be empathetic or understanding towards the production team.  If the series is good, then watch it; if it’s not good, then go about other business.   Producers should have enough breadth of mind to face and accept opinions from audiences, self-reflect on it, and start off anew.”


  1. Woah! I posted a similar thought in AF about ratings not an indicator of a quality series. In fact, some of tvb highest rated series had me scratching my head at their popularity. But of course you said it better. But of course ratings are of immense importance even career changing to the actors involved.


      @Tamaya:  Whoa, what a coincidence!  I actually didn’t see that comment prior to doing my post but after you mentioned it, I went looking for it in AF….of course, definitely agree with what you said!  Unfortunately, based on the comments I’ve read at various sites, looks like there are still way too many people out there who still equate ratings with quality – sure, it’s frustrating, but I guess I shouldn’t get so worked up over it, since that’s pretty much the ‘way of life’ in the HK television industry.


      Yup, I’ve had many of those ‘head-scratching’ moments with TVB series – to the point that I pretty much laugh now whenever I see/hear TVB (and others) bragging about ‘high’ ratings (and seeing foolish audiences falling for it hook, line, and sinker…).  Honestly, given the fact that TVB is pretty much the ‘only game in town’ nowadays (meaning that TV audiences MUST tune in to TVB if they want to watch Cantonese TV series, since they have no other choice), I don’t see what there is to be proud of when they achieve supposedly ‘high’ ratings.

  2. Hi LL, thanks for another interesting article. It has been quite sometime since I last come here, how are you? Like you, I also don't care much about the ratings but the current ratings slump do mirror my drama slump:( I've lost interest in TVB drama so I didn't bother to visit your blog:) So far, all the 2013 dramas are disappointing, yawn yawn. I am hoping Michael Miu's new drama will reignite my love for TVB:P Otherwise with the passage of time, it'll get diluted until I'll give up TVB for good.

    Also, a bit sad in April after watching Leslie's commemorative concert. Oh, those good old days when I chased dramas & listened to Cantonese songs like crazy, so many quality choices. Now, I don't feel like watching TVB drama and I never really listen to song anymore.

    1. @BOGAEfan:  Hey friend, long time no see!  I’ve been busy as usual but other than that, things are going relatively fine.

      Haha…I know what you mean about the ‘drama slump’ thing – though I’ve continued to “watch” Beauty at War (I put ‘watch’ in quotes because technically I’m not truly ‘watching’ in that I’m not ‘paying attention’ – pretty much I’m just looking up occasionally from what I’m doing and watching a few scenes here and there…LOL), none of TVB’s dramas recently have been able to capture my attention.  I’ve pretty much resorted to watching/re-watching older dramas (well, maybe I should say ‘antique’ dramas, since most of the stuff I’ve been watching is back from the 80s/90s, which is probably considered ‘Stone Ages’ for most people nowadays…haha). 

      As far as my blog goes – well, I haven’t really been updating it as much as I should, so I’m not surprised at the lack of visitors….but that’s okay, since I blog because I want to share and writing is a form of ‘release’ for me, so it all works out in the end.  But yea, whenever you do get the chance, please continue to pop in every once in awhile (I miss our long ‘discussions’ over certain series and artists…LOL).

      It’s true that most of the 2013 dramas have been nothing to shout about – the only ones that I even bothered to ‘watch’ from beginning to end were Inbound Troubles and Reality Check…everything else I either skipped entirely or stopped watching after a few episodes in (though my mom watches every single series that comes out, so sometimes it’s hard to avoid catching an episode here or there even after I’ve given up on the series).   Michael’s new drama does sound interesting and the cast is ‘decent’ for once (meaning that at the very least, there isn’t anyone I can’t stand in the cast, at least from what I can see so far), so there’s a good chance I might end up watching the series from beginning to end…..let’s see what happens though….

      By the way, talking about low ratings, did you hear the recent rumor from the tabloids about TVB possibly reconsidering the broadcasting timeslot for Triumph 2 because of the poor ratings and reception for BAW?  Not sure if it’s true or not, but honestly, if TVB is considering doing that, then it’s stupid because those are 2 completely different types of series and the circumstances are entirely different – if it’s true, then once again, it re-emphasizes the point I tried to get across in my post about how people put ridiculously heavy weight on ratings and make ‘brash’ decisions based on those ratings.

      LOL…ah, those ‘good ole days’!!!  I find myself saying that more often than not nowadays.  I feel exactly the same way as you….I definitely miss those olden days when the HK entertainment industry was actually worth ‘following’! 

      On the subject of ‘good old days’…. just a heads up that I’m working on a series of posts that revisits some of TVB’s most influential TV series from the past 45 years (it’s a weekly series of articles that TVB Magazine published and I feel is definitely worth sharing with other fans of the ‘old TVB’)…so stay tuned for that, as I’m sure reading those articles will bring back a lot of memories of those good old days (just like it did for me).

    2. About TITS 2, the rumours about TVB reconsidering the airing time possibly erupted from TVB's decision to pull out TITS 2003 from the original re-airing time on TVB's midnight drama slot. However TVB has clarified that TITS 2 will be airing at it's intended premier in July, and explained that the reason they pull out TITS was because TVB is afraid viewers will tend to compare TITS and TITS2.

  3. I don't get why TVB's surprised about the low ratings at the quality they've been churning out series. I haven't watched a single TVB series this year even though there's free illegal streaming online! I have yet to watch Reality Check for Ruco, which I'm still on the fence for.
    As for ratings, times has changed and most people don't rush back home just to catch an episode on tv, they choose to watch online through different legal networks. I feel HK's rating calculations is the same dilenma with using "album sales" as a gauge for how great a music album was! HK is so behind in the way they deal with technologies and transitions. Every singer who comes out with an album should have their music on itunes yet that isn't the case.

    Quite frankly I agree that CTI/HKTV should have a tv license but if they don't get it by next year then just create a website like Crunchyroll and have "simulcast". Those who pay a fee gets to watch commercial free and the latest episodes faster while those who don't will have ads interrupting and has to wait a few more days. Come one even 60+ year olds have an ipad nowdays so even those who stay home might not be tuning in on their fav shows online.

    This is exactly why Ricky Wong (HKTV) said the ways of calculating ratings is outdated and that they'll be using a different way.

    1. Oh and when I say itunes I mean for all overseas countries as well, not just HK. Sorry I'm going off topic but there are singer who don't even have their albums on HK iTunes. Then there are those who do but not over overseas countries. I believe itunes and amazon needs to find a way to change the copyright system. But bottomline, if I can get the latest "single" from my favorite Thailand singer on US iTunes there's no excuse why HK companies can't accomplish that.