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Critics vs. TV Viewers

In the last episode of my blog, we compared the list of best TV shows of 2012 for two groups: 45 TV critics, as compiled by Metacritic, and 542 average TV viewers who ranked shows using our Bracket™ prioritization tool. The two groups had six shows in common on their Top 20 lists, including two from AMC: “Breaking Bad” and “The Walking Dead.”

We wondered whether access to more content (through having basic cable or premium channels) would correlate with viewers’ opinions of the top shows.

Before we get to that, it’s interesting to note that the TV critics didn’t favor premium channel or basic cable programming. In fact, fully half of their 20 “best” shows of 2012 aired on the “standard” networks. TV viewers only had one more network show in their own top 20 than the critics did.

  Critic Top 20 List TV Viewer Top 20 List
Standard network shows (ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, PBS) 10 11
Basic cable shows 6 6
Premium channel shows (HBO, Cinemax, Starz, Showtime) 4 3
Total 20 20


So, do TV viewers with premium channels choose more premium channel shows than those without? Well, that’s a little complicated.

Turns out that TV viewers with at least one premium channel have 3 premium channel shows in their top 20. But those without any type of TV service – not even basic cable – also have 3 premium channel shows in their top 20. It’s the viewers with basic cable who are different – they don’t have any premium channel shows in their top 20.  

Premium Channel Shows in the Top 20
  TV Viewer Top 20 List
 Critic Top 20 List Have Premium Channels
Basic Cable Only
No TV Service

Homeland (Showtime)

Girls (HBO)

Game of Thrones (HBO)

Boardwalk Empire (HBO)

Game of Thrones (HBO)

Dexter (Showtime)

Spartacus (Starz)


Game of Thrones (HBO)

Dexter (Showtime)

Spartacus (Starz)


Our best guess as to why (and it is just a guess) is that the folks who are willing to pay for TV service but not premium channels are more likely to have mentally dismissed the premium channel shows since they’re willing to pay for some content but not for premium channel content, while those who have no TV service are more likely to recognize that the TV shows they’re not paying for could be of high quality. (It’s also possible that those who aren’t paying for TV service are more likely to take steps to experience the shows elsewhere, such as through Netflix or Hulu. But we didn’t ask them that.)

So what does this mean? While the exact shows the critics consider “best” and TV viewers consider “best” may vary, where those shows originate is remarkably similar. We see a lot of press about the superior quality of cable shows compared to network TV....but critics and viewers alike are finding quality programming on network TV.

Tagged in: Prioritization

VP / Research Management

Michele likes to hijack TRC's online consumer panel to get relevant answers to her burning research questions. She loves asking questions relating to her favorite hobbies - TV and movies, golf, casino gambling and travel - and more often than not the answers can be generalized across industries.

Contact Michele


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Guest Monday, 26 October 2020

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