The decision to stream the reality competition and replace it with football on ABC makes perfect sense, analysts tell TheWrap
The decision to move ABC’s “Dancing With the Stars” to Disney+ was “bold” and “genius,” several analysts told TheWrap.
Some initial reactions to Friday’s news described the show’s move to streaming as a demotion for the series and ABC — a reflection of shrinking ratings over the course of 16 years and 30 seasons. But a majority of the analysts told TheWrap that the shift was logical in light of changing linear TV viewing habits and Disney’s goals for its streaming service.
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“This is a clear signal that confirms what everybody has known: The most important platform at Disney is Disney+,” Brian Frons, former president of daytime for ABC TV Group, told TheWrap.
Frons, who now teaches entertainment at UCLA, interprets the move as “genius,” but also a sign that ABC “ain’t what it used to be.”
Paul Hardart, director of the entertainment, media and technology program at NYU, said that the move reflects how content serves the company’s bigger picture. “Disney is optimizing its content across all its platforms, which is not in any way denigrating ABC, which is one of the great networks of all time,” he said. “It makes sense. It’s smart management of their distribution and content assets. It’s ultimately a good move for Disney.”
“DWTS” has held onto the Monday night primetime slot for going on 16 years. The show, which initially expanded its footprint after its initial success, was scaled back from two nights a week to just one for Season 27 in 2018. And yes, the show’s ratings have plummeted over its run. At its peak viewership, the series averaged nearly 21 million total viewers for Seasons 11 and 12 back in 2010-11. The most recent season banked an average 4.89 million total viewers.
But that doesn’t paint the full ratings picture. First, all of network TV has seen a huge drop in viewing with the advent of cord-cutting and streaming services over the last several years. According to SpoilerTV, there has been an average 82% drop for the major broadcast networks’ ratings in the key 18-49 demo since 2011.
With that in mind, “DWTS” still ranks third among ABC’s unscripted shows after “The Bachelor” and “American Idol” and in the top five for unscripted series on all of broadcast currently.
So why make the move? The first key is “Monday Night Football,” which moves from ESPN back to ABC this fall and will be taking over the “DWTS” slot. Remember when we told you the last season of “DWTS” averaged 4.89 million total viewers? Well, according to ESPN, the last season of “Monday Night Football” averaged 13.5 million viewers per game, up 11% from 2020 and 7% from 2019.
Paul Erickson, research director of entertainment and consumer electronics at Parks Associates, said the “DWTS” move is smart programming and a win for both ABC and Disney+.
“They’re looking at ‘Dancing With the Stars’ and that huge fan base, but potentially freeing up room for something that might be more lucrative sponsorship-wise,” said Erickson. “It may be as fundamental as what that property brings in versus ‘Monday Night Football’ in that same spot in the schedule. It doesn’t necessarily denigrate the value of ‘Dancing With the Stars.’ And it’s not necessarily bad for ABC. It’s a win under the assumption that they are using that primetime space for a property that has equal or better revenue generation.”
Next, consider Disney’s goals of adding and broadening its streaming service’s subscribers. As IndieWire’s Tony Maglio pointed out, Disney+’s mix of children’s television, Marvel and “Star Wars” libraries serve the 2-17, 18-34, and 35-54 age demos. Only 9% of Disney+ users are 55 and older. And the average age of “DWTS” viewers? Nielsen has them pegged at an average 63.5 years old. Clearly, they fit a market that Disney+ would like to add to its numbers.
“ABC knows that this is a bankable property. It’s technically available through streaming already, but maybe not with same reach Disney+ has,” Erickson said. “They already know how it performs and that it’s broadly appealing and feel it will perform even better if you give it longer legs.”
Hardart called the move “smart” and “bold.” The way he sees it, bringing “DWTS” fans to Disney+ will yield more subscription signups, while having NFL back on ABC will generate more ad revenue than “DWTS” could in the same spot. He also sees the decision as a broader indication of how linear and streaming programming will evolve.
“The future is streaming,” he said. “We’re going to see that broadcast becomes the home of news and sports, and broad entertainment shows like ‘Dancing With the Stars’ will show up on streaming services.”
Hardart believes bumping the dance competition to streaming isn’t a “white flag” for ABC, but rather “it’s a win for Disney.” The decision makes “DWTS” the first livestreaming reality show on the service, and potentially the first livestreaming reality competition on any subscription streaming service.
“Optimizing their audience is an innovator’s dilemma,” he said. “How do you disrupt yourself? They’re disrupting themselves and slowly moving live content to streaming to see how that goes.”