With Toonami now losing three hours to Adult Swim’s comedy line-up due to low ratings we are left with many questions as to why this came to pass. I can offer no absolute answers, I can merely speculate as I always have. Please do not take the following as concrete evidence to anything, it is just my theories regarding how this came about and why it happened when it did.

Ratings report after ratings report in 2014 has shown that Adult Swim was down in their overall ratings since 2013 and Saturday was anything but an exception. In 2012 the bar was set quite a bit lower but in 2013 the bar was raised and it should come as no surprise that Adult Swim’s executives and the advertisers buying space during commercial breaks would not settle for less if there was something that could be done about it. I do feel it is short-sighted and unfair to cut down Toonami for doing exactly what the programming department made them do, that being keep Attack on Titan in the 11:30PM time slot. That ultimately cost them 11:30pm which was a slot only earned by the value Space Dandy presented and kept for the value a first run of Attack on Titan presented. We can already see from the most recent week that simply moving Attack on Titan and allowing Dragon Ball Z: Kai to lead the charge was more than enough to allow Toonami to do exceptional at 11:30PM again. We’ll never know what Kill La Kill may have done in that position either.

One thing that cannot be denied is the back-end ratings outside of a few fluke weeks have become softer than in 2013. I think that can easily be attributed to the loss of InuYasha. Even downsizing it to one episode a week brought the 5AM hour down some and gave those dedicated InuYasha viewers much less reason to sit through the rest of the shows to get to their beloved InuYasha. Star Wars: The Clone Wars brought in its own fans but many felt it and InuYasha greatly lacked compatibility. Clone Wars did alright for itself even after InuYasha left but the hour could not manage the heights it once did the same rotation of reruns did not make for a strong lead-in to that hour either. Samurai Jack and Sym-Bionic Titan are marvelous shows but the amount of dedicated viewers who would stay up for them or wake up for them was nowhere near the amount that used to watch InuYasha at that hour.

A constant criticism of Toonami has been that they’ve been playing the same reruns of Cowboy Bebop, Fullmetal Alchemist and other shows since the block was resurrected in 2012. For a long time those shows continued to hold an audience despite Fullmetal airing in one form or another since 2004 and Cowboy Bebop getting run into the ground since 2001. There were certainly weeks when they did well compared to everything else even into 2013 and 2014 but growing number of viewers grew tired of them. Having them air ahead of Samurai Jack and Star Wars: The Clone Wars may have actually been a grievous mistake but the 5AM’s content restrictions somewhat forced their hand toward that. All in all with the loss of InuYasha it became increasingly apparent that the late hours of Toonami were difficult to maintain. I am honestly surprised it took this long for Adult Swim to cut down the rerun block. I imagine part of the reason it stayed there was out of appreciation for those shows and the other reason was Adult Swim was satisfied enough with those ratings for shows that cost little or nothing to air in hours where most networks air infomercials.

So why do this now? As I said earlier, the bar was raised in 2013. 2012’s Toonami ratings look like a joke now but 2013 was Adult Swim’s best year to date. With that comes the responsibility to maintain ratings around that level and while they were content to leave Toonami alone for many months that good will was bound to run out at some point. This is a business after all, not a charity. In Fall of 2014, Dish Network’s contract fiasco with Turner Networks piled the hurt on top of an already weaker year. While they say nothing was punished for that period of low ratings and I’m willing to believe that is the case, the bounce back was tremendously important and aside from a couple of excellent weeks including a hexamillion night for Toonami, the ratings have been soft on Saturday night. That is not just Toonami’s fault but I feel it must be said that the decision to put DBZ Kai and InuYasha: The Final Act on hiatus for the entire month of December was a very poor decision. That killed momentum outright.

Killing momentum is how you could define Toonami’s Fall of 2014. Lack of communication from Turner legal lead to a few abrupt schedule changes when Beware the Batman and Sym-Bionic Titan were written off and Star Wars: The Clone Wars had to be pulled off the air. Hellsing Ultimate had just had two incredibly impressive weeks and instantly lost momentum by having one week off. If there is something you can be sure of with the general audience, it is that if they tune in for a show and do not see it where it was the week before they are very unlikely to tune in again to see if that show came back. It is not like the old days where Toonami and/or Adult Swim action was the only game in town. They’re the only game in television but the methods to watch nearly every show on Toonami have become numerous. You are already asking those viewers to commit to however many weeks a show is going to be on. To expect them to come back if their show goes on hiatus for even a week is gambling with chips you do not have. Most abrupt schedule changes were out of the Toonami’s crew’s hands but it likely signaled an underlying problem. Maintaining a 6 and a half hour block every week is difficult. Adequately promoting everything that airs on it outside of a general line-up promo that doesn’t even air every week is also very difficult. The majority of Toonami viewers do not see the tumblr posts or go to fan sites for their Toonami news. If they do not get on-air notice then they simply do not know what happened and most do not care to stick around long enough to find out.

Earlier I talked about how loyal InuYasha viewers are. They’re not the only loyal viewers Toonami has relied on. Bleach viewers kept the block going in 2012 and 2013. While Space Dandy and Attack on Titan were showing up the shows airing ahead of them in the comedy block, Bleach interest waned a bit. Bleach viewership picked up with a return to canon and might have finished very strong if not for the Dish Network situation that poisoned its final stretch of episodes but the real problem is what happened when Bleach ended. Many of those dedicated viewers vanished and did not even come back for the reruns. That is to say nothing for the viewers who were present for Attack on Titan’s first season premieres that disappeared the instant Titan went into reruns. To keep those viewers they either needed a very fresh new show or to lead the charge or an old favorite. Toonami did neither of those things for 11:30PM and squandered the momentum they did have from bringing in Dragon Ball Z and InuYasha by promoting them and bringing them in with fanfare only to take them off for a whole month. Perhaps if they had rectified that by at least January they would not have lost 11:30PM but they did not do that. They most likely could have at least bought some time by moving Dragon Ball Z to the front the first week of January. Attack on Titan and Space Dandy were able to overcome a weaker lead-in than the 2013 line-up was granted but reruns of either were not going to cut it in a competitive time slot like 11:30PM.

Viewer loyalty can also be a bit of a double-edged sword. While in-fighting on message boards and twitter do not cause ratings issues, when you pair up the wrong shows you tend to get undesirable results. The first questionable move of the year was sticking Space Dandy reruns between Bleach and Naruto Shippuden. This was done to keep Dandy in recent memory by the time season two rolled in but Dandy is a show that could catch unique viewers, the kind that would maybe not care so much for Bleach or Shippuden. Likewise, the viewers who were there specifically for Bleach and Shippuden suddenly had this bizarre show in the middle of their beloved shounen block. I don’t think it takes much thought to determine why that did not work out for the best. Along came Beware the Batman which was panned all across the internet by anime viewers who wanted nothing to do with a “badly animated kiddie Batman” and even underappreciated by DC animation fans. All Toonami wanted to do was give it a good home and allow the show to finish its run, something Cartoon Network had previously denied it. They threw it on a 3AM because it cost nothing and they had already booked up the earlier slots. Criticizers were not thrilled and when Beware did so well it was moved ahead of Black Lagoon they were pretty ticked. None the less the oddest thing happened when Toonami lost Beware the Batman and moved Space Dandy out of its 12:30AM slot. It seemed to me those series brought in unique viewers that did not stick around with the schedule shuffle. I honestly believe there were more people interested in watching Batman before Hellsing than those interested in watching Gurren Lagann before Hellsing.

Audience compatibility between shows did not seem to be as much of a problem in 2013 but in 2014 many shows ended up having large gaps between them. Bleach losing from Titan already started the night off rocky and almost ensured now show after those two was going to break 1 million viewers and it did not stop there as some weeks had Dandy lose from Bleach or Naruto lose from Dandy and One Piece lose from Naruto. At that point any hope for the 2AM shows pulling in even 800,000 was shot to hell. We’ll never know how Black Lagoon may have done after Attack on Titan or Space Dandy, or how Blue Exorcist might have done after Bleach. I feel what Toonami learned from this is if the long series do not end up being compatible then they should be bridged with shows that do not create such large drops during the premiere part of the block. With as good as the line-up for Toonami was in Summer of 2014, the quality did not translate to excellent ratings beyond Attack on Titan, Bleach and Space Dandy. The only real way to overcome that kind of steady decline in ratings over several hours is to shorten your hours and have a strong lead-in.

The comedy lead-in is tremendously important to Toonami’s overall success. Part of the reason for 2012’s lower rated weeks is because the comedy lead was something along the lines of a Loiter Squad marathon or episodes of Metalocalypse or Black Dynamite that failed to get anywhere near what The Boondocks reruns could get much less what American Dad, Family Guy or Cleveland Show could get. 2013 had a very highly rated Saturday comedy block between Family Guy, Adult Swim premieres for The Cleveland Show and pre-season 4 Boondocks. That was the best lead-in that Toonami has gotten on Adult Swim and it produced excellent ratings. Back in Spring of 2014, Adult Swim expanded to 8PM every night and that spread Adult Swim’s higher rated comedies on Saturday thinner than ever before. So they tried having the FOX rerun power in prime time and leading into Toonami with a Boondocks and Black Dynamite sandwich and that sure made Attack on Titan look like a stud but a lead-in that drew in more viewers would have helped Toonami a lot in 2014. Early 2014 while Space Dandy was in season 1 premieres and the comedy block was slightly crunched, everything looked pretty good but when that extra hour was added and they had to resort to using more Boondocks or other original series that didn’t match the FOX reruns in those slots everything started to drag on Saturday night and adding the 8PM hour in general lowered Adult Swim’s daily average. That average is still lower than it once was and that is why changes had to be made.

Adult Swim has their upfront in May and only has one quarter to turn around their ratings so they can convince more companies to buy ad-space on their network. I believe this is the reason why they have recently moved premieres from Monday and Thursday to Friday and Sunday so that Monday-Thursday can be the same schedule every night because their audience has always loved familiarity. They experimented with Monday prime time premieres this year and it lowered the average of their Monday nights simply by taking away one American Dad or Family Guy. They tried Black Jesus on Thursday night where they normally play Family Guy and also lowered their average. While moving to Friday may not have been the best choice for their live-action block it does avoid having a different line-up on Thursday and I personally always thought it was strange for Adult Swim to have Thursday be different than Monday-Wednesday and Friday and I doubt I was the only viewer who thought that live-action night always should have been on Friday. You know, besides the viewers who hate Adult Swim airing live-action at all. Saturday’s ratings have been soft as well and Adult Swim has decided to try Rick & Morty and Robot Chicken as well as put American Dad and Family Guy back to back in the same hour rather than split them up and have a 10PM hour valley between them before Toonami. That produced excellent results with no prior notice and likely will produce excellent results this week as well but they are not settling there.

11:30PM was earned because of the importance of Space Dandy and the value of Attack on Titan but the timeslot is more heavily contested than 12AM and beyond. Sports events, Saturday Night Live and big weekends at the box office have all hurt Toonami’s ratings at one point or another and the less time before 12AM will likely result in higher ratings for two reasons. The first being the competition being less fierce and the second being that Family Guy and American Dad will do better in that time slot than anything Toonami can throw at it including Attack on Titan, Space Dandy, Bleach and Dragon Ball Z. Every night of Adult Swim has a viewership that piques around the 11PM hour when Family Guy is airing. The shows airing before Family Guy grow in ratings the closer they are to Family Guy and the shows after Family Guy slowly decline until Family Guy or American Dad encore after the original series. While Saturday is a bit of a unique beast and likely will not behave exactly like weekdays in those late hours there is plenty of reason to believe an AD/FG encore in the 3AM hour is going to beat out whatever aired directly before it if not a few shows before that. That is strength that not even Bleach or InuYasha reruns possess. The surest way to improve the average of Saturday night aside from improving the prime time line-up is to throw on a late night encore of AD or FG. It does not matter when those shows air, people are going to watch them and they are ideal for catching viewers who have come home late from socializing on Saturday nights and are not in the mood for a serialized story. Following that with a few of their more mainstream original comedies and tried and true King of the Hill is going to produce results that Toonami would not be able to accomplish. It is a harsh reality but that is how it is.

Here’s the good news, there is a lot of potential for Toonami to pull in exceptional ratings in this scenario. Toonami gets the benefit of being cushioned by the loving embrace of Family Guy and American Dad on both ends and you’d be amazed to see how much a simple shift of a half hour can improve the ratings of those FOX reruns. As I said before, 11PM is where the night usually piques so having those shows in the 11PM hour as opposed to part-way into the 10PM hour is going to make a sizable difference. Imagine what Dragon Ball Z can do following an episode of Family Guy that breaks 1.7 million viewers? It’s gonna be a hell of a lot more than a DBZ following a Family Guy that only got 1.3 million viewers that’s for sure.

Lastly, with 3 hours less to keep track of, Toonami can focus their efforts on making their 3.5 hour line-up as good as possible. There will be no time spent on bumpers for shows airing after 3:30AM, the line-up promos can highlight more about each of those 7 shows instead of trying to cram in all 13, they can have more time to create intersiduals and they save at least some money and resources that can be used to get more new shows. The block’s rating average will jump by the nature of losing less desirable hours and that will make it look more enticing to advertisers as well. Admittedly, I wish they could have kept four hours but 7 shows to watch every week is still plenty and 6 premieres is more than adequate for the time being. We’ve seen what happens when Toonami is stretched too thin and minimizing is the best action to take to preserve Toonami.

Please do not lose faith in Toonami and its crew. They have had setbacks but they will stay the course. The revolution is not going anywhere. Keep watching and keep supporting. Who knows what the future may hold?

Written by Sketch
Editor in Chief of ToonamiFaithful.com