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‘Duck Dynasty’ ratings down: What’s to blame–stiff competition, anti gay statements or botched public relations?

» Posted by on Jan 17, 2014

 

For weeks now, A&E television network executives have wondered about the impact of star Phil Robertson’s statements about gays and how the botched response by the network itself would impact ‘Duck Dynasty’ when the show premiered this month.

Would the numbers climb because of the controversy, stay about the same, or take a hit?

Well, the season premiere of ‘Duck Dynasty’ aired Sunday night at 10 p.m. This morning we’re learning that those numbers took a HUGE hit.

According to The Huffington Post, TV Line reports that 8.5 million people tuned in for the fifth season premiere of “Duck Dynasty” on Wednesday (Jan. 15). That is down from 12 million viewers who watched the fourth season premiere.

In the coveted demographic of 18-49, 4.2 million tuned in.

Some shows would kill for numbers like that.

But the numbers reflect a 30% drop. And clearly execs at A&E are reeling this morning. Their highest performing show, along with all of its lucrative merchandizing, are now in jeopardy.

So let’s analyze a little bit.

This all began with statements Phil Robertson made to GQ magazine in an article entitled “What the Duck?”

A devout Christian, Robertson created a you-know-what storm when asked by GQ what he considered to be sinful, and he said: “Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there. Bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman and those men.”

He also said a few other things that some might say were equally as bad–if not worse.

A&E, perhaps in a misguided effort to get ahead of what could become a backlash against the network, suspended Phil Robertson and condemned his remarks.

Almost immediately, A&E got hit by those on the right who agreed with Robertson and from those who may or may not have agree but believed that Robertson had the right to express himself.

Threats of boycotts began. The Robertson family insinuated they may walk if the patriarch of the Robertson family were tossed off the show.

A Change.org petition in support of Robertson surfaced and received more than 118,000 signatures.

Phil Robertson didn’t say a word. No apology or anything.

A&E caved.

The network reinstated Robertson, amended its position and said Robertson had every right to express himself even if the network did not agree with what he said.

Fox News quotes a source inside A&E saying this ordeal has been awful. “Several high-ranking executives have expressed upset over the way this all played out. The network execs think that in allowing Phil to come back so quickly and seamlessly, without apology, sets a bad standard,” the source told Fox News. “The standard being that talent can say whatever offensive thing they want about gay people or other groups and get away with it. No consequences.”

When “Duck Dynasty” was about to premiere for the season, pundits suggested the controversy could help ratings. And boy was there a lot of media coverage promoting the premiere.

But those pundits were wrong.

What must be going on today in the C-Suite of A&E.

In retrospect, the network made a bad situation even worse.

When companies take a position, they must make sure it is one they can live with.

Clearly in this case, the network jumped the gun with a statement that they clearly did not completely think through all the possible the ramifications.

They should have known that suspending Robertson could be seen as disingenuous as the show is taped so many months in advance. And that some people may agree with him or believe he has a right to speak.

The fact that Robertson made the comments in a magazine and not on their airwaves is significant should have factored into their decision-making process.

My guess is A&E was trying to take a position that might help the story die out in a few days, then down the road they would take Robertson off suspension and the show would go on.

Nothing about crisis management in public relations is easy.

What we all can learn from this is sometimes you need to take a breath and analyze the reaction before staking a position. You can’t make a decision without first having all the information.

Sometimes the chips need to the fall before you can pick them up, because the chips may fall differently than you anticipate.

And in this case, I don’t think that A&E had the information it needed when the network took its position.

My opinion is that the statements made by Robertson and the networks reaction and subsequent corrections are to blame for the ratings slide. What do you think?

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Glenn Selig founded The Publicity Agency in 2007 and has represented some of the biggest newsmakers and most influential business leaders and companies nationwide. He is a frequent guest on MSNBC, Fox News Channel and on CNN. Reporters call him for an expert PR opinion on high profile cases to offer perspective. He also appears on air to publicly defend his clients. View the PR firm website and follow him on Twitter @GlennSelig