It’s no surprise that Community — the beloved but low-rated former NBC show which just wrapped up its sixth season on Yahoo Screen — doesn’t like Nielsen ratings. After all, its creator Dan Harmon has been public about the antiquated ratings system which helped cut his show from broadcast cable, saying “a .8 [rating] could mean the best day of your life and a .7 meant no donuts.” But at the end of the season finale, a voiceover actor made Harmon’s thoughts — and the distinct possibility that the show has a uncharted online fan base — quite clear.
“Viewers may be measured by a secretive obsolete system based on selected participants keeping handwritten journals of what they watch,” the voice said just before the credits of Community episode 13, Emotional Consequences of Broadcast Television. “Show many be cancelled and moved to the Internet where it turns out tens of millions were watching the whole time. May not matter.”
While tens of millions of viewers is probably an exaggeration, there may be some truth to the fact that Community’s lackluster Nielsen ratings didn’t paint the whole picture. NBC finally axed the show at the end of season five after fans made enough noise online to keep it on the air for two seasons more than the network wanted. (It is worth noting that Nielsen reported that the show averaged just 3 million total viewers in its fifth season.) Yahoo hasn’t made ratings available from its sixth season, and the series’ first on the Internet juggernaut’s fledgling streaming network. Yet, multiple sources have noted that the social conversation around the show has dwindled this season.
For its part, Nielsen has made an effort in recent months to integrate data from Netflix and other video streaming services into their rating system. It’s still a relatively new development for Nielsen — and for TV broadcasters — in understanding how the myriad video streaming options factor into a show’s total viewership. Because of the rapidly changing patterns of TV consumption, it is difficult for Harmon to put the onus on Nielsen — not to mention the fact that all signs do point to Community‘s decline in popularity this year.
Regardless, unless Yahoo releases viewing numbers for Community (which is unlikely), our only concrete hint at how the season did will be what happens next for Community. Since the initial viewer backlash in 2011, there has been an ongoing social media chant for #sixseasonsandamovie. Now that the show has completed six seasons, will a movie be next?
We’re not sure, but there’s hope. This week, star Joel McHale told Conan O’Brien that “I think we will do a movie, if Dan [Harmon] will write the script.” In March, Harmon — as Forbes mentioned — said Yahoo Screen will make the final decisions. “Yahoo seems down for just about anything. I don’t know why they’d turn their nose up to a movie about a low-rated show. They seem to be very naive.”