Television's biggest winners of the 2015-16 season are barely winners at all. The few returning broadcast series that saw zero ratings movement are considered the hits, as fractured viewing and the era of Peak TV rewrite the rules of conventional audience measurement. That's why this season might be the last judged by Nielsen's current live-plus-7-day measuring stick.
Despite the May axing of 19 first-year series and such surprise dumpings as ABC's Castle and Nashville, cancellations are proving rarer, even as linear ratings shrink. That's because, of the 60 returning scripted series to air on the five main broadcast networks this season, only one finished with improved ratings from the previous year. And that show premiered in the '90s. Law & Order: SVU's modest gain, up an incremental 4 percent during its 17th cycle, is a case study in how the industry standard week of DVR and on-demand views doesn't provide the most complete narrative any longer — or at least not one that the networks are eager to tell.
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