Last month, NBC couldn't have been more enthusiastic about Aquarius, its new David Duchovny summer drama. After pulling a Netflix and making Aquarius the first broadcast series to stream its entire season immediately following its May 28 linear premiere, NBC announced on June 25 that it had renewed the drama for a second season. In discussing the renewal, NBC Entertainment president Jennifer Salke said Aquarius had "energized our summer."
Just two and a half weeks later, the network finds itself in the midst of an energy crisis: With ratings plunging for both Aquarius and its Thursday-night companion, Hannibal, NBC is moving both shows to Saturdays, which is broadcast's version of the witness protection program. (Dateline Mystery will replace them on Thursdays.)
The broadcast networks have long given up on programming original scripted series on Saturdays, instead using the evening to air reruns and burn-off episodes of canceled shows. In recent week, CBS unearthed the long-forgotten The Millers and The McCarthys on the night. NBC is now following suit with Hannibal, which it canceled three weeks ago but will allow to finish out the season.
But it's unusual for the network to banish a show to Saturday that it has made a long-term commitment to, like Aquarius. The show's ratings are paltry—last week's episode had a 0.5 rating among viewers ages 18 to 49, with just 2.47 million total viewers. Hannibal fared even worse, with a 0.4 in the 18-49 demographic and 1.38 million viewers. But an NBC rep told Adweek that the network is standing by Aquarius' Season 2 renewal, despite the Saturday move.
Aquarius was one of several summer shows to score an early renewal despite soft linear ratings, based in large part on the strength of their non-linear performances. NBC said last month that Aquarius' digital numbers were "key" to its renewal: It is the No. 2 most-viewed drama premiere on NBC.com and the NBC app, second only to The Blacklist. "It's driven some record numbers for NBC Digital and helped us reach viewers who might have otherwise overlooked a great summer drama," said Salke.
NBC obviously liked the data it gleaned from Aquarius' non-linear performance, given that the network picked up the show for Season 2 just as the four-week window ended in which audiences could stream the entire series (now, only the five most recent episodes are available to stream). Robert Hayes, evp, NBC Entertainment Digital, said in the renewal announcement that the show "has helped us gain new insights into viewership patterns, binging behavior and social engagement, significantly expanding our knowledge of how people are watching our shows online."
So perhaps the show will continue to have value to NBC purely from a data perspective, and help the network craft its digital strategy going forward with other shows. That alone could be enough to justify the renewal, because by moving Aquarius to Saturday, the network is essentially abandoning any chance of growing the show's audience. Not only is Saturday the least-watched night of the week, but the show's cast and crew are less likely to live-tweet on Saturdays, as they have done on most Thursday nights.
Going into the summer, advertisers and buyers worried about exactly this scenario with Aquarius, if the ratings fell during its run. "It will be hard to tell if the linear falloff is due to digital or just because people didn't want to watch it again," said Darcy Bowe, vp, media director at Starcom.
Unless NBC reconsiders, it'll have at least one more season to try and answer that question.