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A Lot Of You Apparently Aren't Watching 'Luther.' Why Not?

Photo of Tambay A. Obenson By Tambay A. Obenson | Shadow and Act September 5, 2013 at 6:13PM

As I said to my S&A cohorts, it doesn't appear that the Stateside audience for the acclaimed BBC series Luther (starring Idris Elba) is as strong as I thought it would be by now, halfway through its 3rd season, especially given the excitement generated over the series, across the blogosphere - specifically the black blogosphere.
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Luther Season 3

As I said to my S&A cohorts, it doesn't appear that the Stateside audience for the acclaimed BBC series Luther (starring Idris Elba) is as strong as I thought it would be by now, halfway through its 3rd season, especially given the excitement generated over the series, across the blogosphere - specifically the black blogosphere.

Or is the excitement over Idris Elba, and not necessarily the series he stars in? Isn't this the kind of TV content a lot of us have been asking for?

The numbers for Tuesday's season 3 premiere episode are out, and they aren't as impressive as I expected them to be.

206,000 viewers tuned in on Tuesday night at 10pm, to watch the return of the *mental* detective. While it's a healthy increase from the 168,000 who tuned in to watch Luther’s season 2 debut, I expected the numbers this year would be much higher than 206,000 viewers - especially when compared to the series' season 3 premiere in the UK in July. 5 million UK viewers tuned in, compared to the 206,000 Stateside! Although that 5 million in the UK was actually the lowest for a season premiere in the show’s 3-season history - some 600,000 viewers less than the last episode which aired in 2011.

So while viewership in the UK fell, it actually rose here in the USA, which is good I suppose. However, I'm not pleased with that 206,000 figure. As I said, I expected more. Certainly not 5 million, but a lot more than 206,000. If Tyler Perry's The Haves & The Have Nots can attract a record 2.6 million viewers during its season finale earlier this week, on the OWN network, surely, Luther can do better than 10% of what Perry's series did? 

10%!

So what gives here guys? Who's watching and who's not? If you're not watching, why not, especially since there always seems to be a lot of excitement over the series whenever we write about it. Luther was one of the top 10 most popular topics discussed on this blog in 2012.

I checked BBC America's reach, to make sure that the channel is actually available on cable and satellite TV providers in the USA, and, according to the network's website, it available in 94.7 million households. So it's not like it's one of those new networks with a limited presence. To compare, the OWN network is available in 84 million households.

Worth noting is that BBC America had its highest rated telecast of all time, with the season 7 premiere of Doctor Who last September (2012), which drew 2.47 million viewers. The final season's premiere episode of Luther drew less than 10% of that number.

Ouch.

One thing I did note in a previous post is that I was really surprised that the BBC chose to wait 2 full months after the series' UK run this year, to broadcast it in the USA. That, to me, in this age of access-anything-anytime-anywhere demand for content, was an odd decision. 

As I noted, I anticipated piracy, as all of season 3's episodes did find their way online, on several video sharing sites, after they aired in the UK, and before they reached USA TV. And, in talking to some folks here in the USA, they watched the entire season online, because they didn't want to wait the 2 months for it to air on BBC America. Distributors and exhibitors of content simply just can't afford to delay the release of, or expect audiences to wait 2 months for something that's already been broadcast elsewhere. It's practically a lifetime in terms of content distribution in this century.

If you recall, what the UK's Channel 4 and the show's producers did with another hot British TV series, Misfits, was to make every episode available to USA audiences within 24 hours after they aired in the UK.

If lots of folks in the USA watched Luther online before it officially aired on television, they don't have much incentive to watch it again, do they, now that it's being broadcast on BBC America, for USA audiences.

Of course I can't say with any certainty that piracy accounted for the lower-than-expected (by me) numbers. And I doubt that the number of people who watched the series online, before its BBC America debut, was significant enough to raise that 206,000 higher, if they didn't watch it online.

But it's something worth noting as maybe 1 of a handful of potential factors.

With numbers like these, I can understand, in part, why a 4th season is unlikely. 

To make another comparison to a popular British TV series import, Downton Abbey drew a whopping 7 to 8 million per episode last season. Granted Downton is a much more popular series, and it airs on PBS, a network with wider notoriety, reaching 90% of all US television households. Although BBC America reaches 70%, so not an immense difference.

With numbers like 206,000 for a season premiere, it doesn't give me a lot of hope for the announced feature film that Elba and Luther creator Neil Cross want to make.

But maybe I'm just missing something, and don't have all the information in this case. So, I'd love to read your thoughts.

Are most of you watching it after its broadcast? Maybe you're DVRing it, and watching it on your own time? Are you watching it online? Are you just not watching at all?

Enlighten me.

This article is related to: TV News, Things That Make You Go Hmm..., TV Features


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