On October 26, Bill Simmons narrated a segment about the continued futility and misery of the Cleveland Browns franchise during his show Any Given Wednesday. It was a fun bit, even if it wasn’t especially unique or biting. In a way, it represented the height of what AGW has had to offer in it’s 15-week run so far on HBO.
Relevant to sports fan interests, but not especially necessary. Certainly not the kind of content that people are talking about the next day.
That is borne out with the ratings for the October 26 episode of AGW, which cratered at 82,000 viewers in it’s first run.
For the Any Given Wednesday tabulators. #OOF pic.twitter.com/Ha2PYvSYFH
— Sports TV Ratings (@SportsTVRatings) October 27, 2016
That’s a 75 percent drop from the second episode on June 29 that reached 362,000 viewers.
@SportsTVRatings As far as I can tell this is HBO's 2nd least watched original primetime program this year.
— Michael Mulvihill (@mulvihill79) October 27, 2016
Of course this isn’t new. The show’s ratings have been rough from the get-go and never really improved much. A questionable format, over-reliance on Boston material, and softball interview style haven’t done anything to keep Simmons and the show relevant. In a world full of interesting sources for information and entertaining, AGW just doesn’t stand out. As Decider’s Scott Porch puts it, “You watch Any Given Wednesday because, uh, you like the Bill Simmons Podcast?”
In the past, HBO has defended Simmons and AGW by noting that episodes are actually pulling in 2.4 million viewers once you factor in replays, DVR playbacks, and HBO Go. But as Michael McCarthy of the Sporting News noted in August, that number pales in comparison to what “Real Time With Bill Maher” pulls in (4.4 million weekly viewers).
Belichick doesn't want to use the NFL's tablet. @billsimmons says it's a protest. @larrywilmore says it's because he can't use it to cheat. pic.twitter.com/wYqVz4kMH0
— Any Given Wednesday (@AnyGivenWeds) October 27, 2016
Furthermore, a check-in with the AGW YouTube page speaks volumes with it’s numbers. Most of the video clips from the show garner 20-40K views. A handful of them have crossed the 100K mark. Only one (Ben Affleck’s Deflategate rant) has reached into viral territory (2.4 million views) but that was the very first episode of the show. Compare that to John Oliver, who routinely gets huge ratings and sees multiple sections of his show go viral the next day.
HBO has a lot of money tied up in Bill Simmons and while it’s natural to wonder if they might cancel AGW at some point, it might be premature for the cable company to jump ship on their investment yet. They’ve still got five episodes to go on this season and Simmons is getting somewhere between $7 and $9 million from HBO for this and other ventures. Of course, exactly what’s going on with those other ventures is also up for debate. Simmons has barely written anything for The Ringer so far and his ongoing pop culture relevance seems tied directly to his podcast.
Expect HBO to ride out the remainder of AGW’s season and then figure out a gameplan moving forward. Perhaps they’ll cut their losses and retool Simmons’ show as a more straight-forward “televised podcast” or just scrap the whole concept and start from scratch.
In August, an HBO spokesperson said, “We are excited to see the show unfold in the coming weeks and months.” Well, weeks and months are here and the results aren’t getting better. You don’t have to get rid of the show but you can’t keep the status quo much longer.
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