“Rebels” made its debut last Monday on its permanent home Disney X D (the premiere episode aired on the Disney Channel and will air with a special cameo by Darth Vader on ABC later this month). How it fared ratings-wise depends on how you look at it.
I know a lot of fan sites are heralding the show’s ratings as “record-breaking” and “fantastic.” It is true the one-hour premiere on Disney Channel was a ratings record for the network. It is true the first go-around in the Mondays at 9 on Disney X D also set a premiere record for that network. It is true that it drew a network record of kids in the ages 6-14 category, particularly boys.
But the actual people watching the Disney Channel debut (2.7 million in the U.S.) was smaller than Clone Wars’s 2008 debut and the Disney X D broadcast last Monday (just over 1 million) was smaller than just about all of Clone Wars’s run. Given that the show did well in its premieres for those particular networks, you can’t say did badly at all but it’s hardly phenomenal or “fantastic” either. The number of girls 6-11 dropped 78% between the first and second broadcast. One might argue that doesn’t matter since Disney bought Star Wars, er, Lucasfilm in the first place to pull in more of the boys’ market and Disney X D is aimed at boys. But it’s also leaving money on the table so to speak.
I’m not arguing “Rebels” is a flop but Disney is finding out the hard way that Star Wars isn’t magically going to give its fledgling Disney X D Cartoon Network numbers. Disney X D isn’t available in a lot of markets for one thing and it remains to be seen if “Rebels” will inspire enough of a devoted following to influence providers to carry it. Clone Wars did great on Friday nights at 8 but did even better on Saturday mornings. Disney X D is sticking “Rebels” on past the kiddies’ bedtime on a school night. Meanwhile, grown up viewers have Monday Night Football, wrasslin’, “Sleepy Hollow,” and other stuff at 9 p.m. (though Disney X D repeats “Rebels” at 10:30). I think it’s a weird time for a marquee kids’ show. 8 p.m. would be better.
Now if “Rebels” never breaks a million viewers the rest of the season or in season two, that doesn’t necessarily mean it will be canceled but it will affect the show’s budget, meaning fewer episodes and other ways of cutting corners and that could affect the quality of the show overall. We’ll just have to wait and see.