UPDATE 12/27: A&E will be bringing back Robertson next season, according to MSN. It’s unlikely that Duck Dynasty will be going away anytime soon.
Being in Christian circles, the buzz around Duck Dynasty that I read was mostly about how Phil Robertson came across and how people have been reacting. I’ve heard everything from him using his constitutional rights to him being an ignorant bigot who isn’t a Christian. While that talk is important, I want to talk about something else: the business side of the event.
Duck Dynasty has become one of the biggest cable shows, breaking numerous records in views. That’s just a cold fact. According to the Huffington Post, the series premiered with 1.8 million viewers. This fall, Duck Dynasty premiered its fourth season, with a record setting 11.8 million viewers (that’s more than the series finale of Breaking Bad at 10.3 million, according to Mashable). There’s no question that the show has been a success.
However, all those numbers come from BEFORE Robertson’s interview with GQ. The following week was filled with buzz over social media. A&E suspended Robertson from future episodes, according to Mashable, although 9 out of the 10 remaining episodes have already been shot. Rumors have been flying if Robertson would be cut out, but recent reports say that he won’t be and that A&E is hoping everything will blow over by the next season, saying that “time heals lots of wounds” (Entertainment Weekly).
Firestorms have come out against A&E as well as those who have acted against Robertson in an economic way. A Facebook page was started to boycott A&E and has 1.8 million likes. An online petition has also been formed that has nearly 18,000 signatures to bring back the patriarch. While criticism has come up against Robertson, it appears that those for him are becoming stronger. Entertainment Weekly notes that the president of A&E has even received death threats concerning Robertson’s removal (how serious these threats are is uncertain). Cracker Barrel removed their Duck Dynasty merchandise and received a firestorm of comments and emails, causing them to recant their stand and issue an apology (Mashable).
So how has this affected the business world? According to AdAge marketers are simply slowing down advertising their merchandise. They report that Target, Dollar General, Kohl’s, Kroger Co., Amazon and Dick’s Sporting Goods have yet to make statements while companies such as Under Armour have issued statements that Robertson’s views do not reflect their own, but that they will continue business with the family. Some retailers are continuing their sales, but are considering not ordering again next year, due to the merchandise being a fad.
AdAge, looking to the future, compares the incident to Paula Dean’s mistake earlier this year. AdAge notes that Dean’s incident was far worse because she was the show, while Robertson is one of many on Duck Dynasty. While both figures have gone over the “unforgivable line” with their remarks on racism (which Robertson didn’t get much flack about) and Robertson’s comment on orientation, Duck Dynasty should recover. A&E doesn’t have the time to re-shoot 9 episodes by January, so Robertson will be in them. By the time the season is done, either Duck Dynasty will be over, or, more likely, the controversy will have washed away, though not without some remaining effects.
Like it or not, this whole incident has garnered a lot of PR for Duck Dynasty. Mashable notes that prior to the incident, people hadn’t heard of the show. “What is Duck Dynasty?” was trending on Twitter along side the rest of the conversation. Google Trends shows that searches for the TV show began to spike around the time of the controversy. Notice how low it is to Breaking Bad though. In fact, Duck Dynasty has not been as successful with online interactions compared to its popularity (Mashable). TV ratings are beginning to look at social interaction as a strong indicator of viewership, and Duck Dynasty has performed below par for its viewership. While it’s unclear why viewership and social interactions don’t seem to be matching, it could be the target viewers. The record breaking season 4 premier had 6.3 million viewers in the 18-49 demographic (Huffington). It’s possible that the other 5 million viewers don’t tweet or that Duck Dynasty appeals to a different market than Twitter. Perhaps the new year will show more social interaction as new episodes are released.
While the relationship between A&E may be strained, Duck Dynasty has offers from two other stations, though both much smaller than A&E (Huffington). Even if the show begins to die out among the general consumer, there’s still niche markets that are craving Christian hunting television.