A few years ago I worked alongside several heavy-duty computer code writers. (Not that I wrote code myself, which would have been an unmitigated disaster.) It often took me quite a while to understand what they were saying and to catch the drift of their meaning given all the technical terms and acronyms they tossed about. One acronym I never understood was “HCF” — that is until a few years later when AMC created an entire period piece drama by the name, “Halt and Catch Fire,” or “HCF” for short.
It turns out that “HCF” is one of those little inside computer-geek jokes that refers to a series of commands that lead to a royal mess up of the computer’s central processing unit (i.e., its brain.) Which is quite a provocative (and maybe ominous) title for this series which is set in the early 1980s during the personal computer revolution.
“Halt and Catch Fire” is about a very ambitious ex-IBM computer salesman, Joe MacMillan (played by Lee Pace), who wants to take on his former employer by building a faster, cheaper and lighter personal computer. He somehow, someway convinces software maven Gordon Clark (played Scoot McNairy) to reverse engineer an IBM P.C., which is kinda, sorta illegal. But sailing close to the wind and on the edge is very much a central theme to the entire show. There’s also the brilliant (and a little ragey) computer gamer, Cameron Howe, (played by the Canadian actress Mackenzie Davis) who’s just about the smartest code writer around.
This taut, well-written drama (that has a cinematic look and feel to it) is now entering its third season riding a huge wave of positive reviews from TV critics across the country. But for whatever reason, the show hasn’t exactly “caught fire” with viewers, and over the course of its first two seasons the Live ratings and shares can be (charitably) characterized as “steadily modest”:
Given the emphasis that the rainmakers over at AMC placed on “Halt and Catch Fire,” there’s no question they were expecting higher ratings for a show that some thought might be the heir apparent to AMC’s critically-acclaimed “Mad Men. “ But that’s not to suggest there isn’t viewer interest and engagement in the show; indeed, just the opposite is true. Otherwise, we would not be seeing such high DVR activity with Live+ 15 Day DVR ratings approaching 3-times the level of Live-only ratings:
Core Audience Household Characteristics
In order to quantify “Halt & Catch Fire’s” core audience we turned to Acxiom PersonicX, which is a household-level consumer segmentation analysis that divides practically every home in America into one of seventy unique clusters across an array of demographic, behavior-graphic and lifestyle characteristics. By matching the unique characteristics of PersonicX clusters to their set-top-box panel homes, Rentrak has created PersonicX HH ratings for all the programs they measure.
Out of 70 PersonicX Clusters, we found 13 with a greater than 105 ratings index for “Halt & Catch Fire.” The highest cluster index (for “Pennywise Mortgagees”) is 119 which is rather low in comparison with the cluster indices we’ve seen for other shows we’ve blogged about. Nor are the “high” skewing clusters entirely consistent in terms of key characteristics, which leads us to conclude that the show appeals to a broad spectrum of households.
Our overall take is that “Halt & Fire” has a somewhat younger age skew, although it should be noted that the third highest index (viewing) cluster is “Devoted Duos” (Age 76+.) The show’s audience also tends to skew slightly upscale (average income rank of 29 on a scale of 70), as well as non-rural (average “urbanicity” rank of 31 on a scale of 70):
Local Cable Advertising Demand
Over the first two seasons of “Halt & Catch Fire”, 160+ advertisers ordered 1,200 :30-second spots across 43 Viamedia markets (~60% of our national footprint.) That comes to a little over seven spots per advertiser. (Source: Viamedia internal analysis of B.I.G.SM database. Copyright © 2016 by Viamedia, Inc. All Rights Reserved.)
In terms of local cable advertising categories, the Automotive category captured the lion’s share (44%) of investments, which is not unusual for high profile cable programming. Nor is the relatively high percentage for Tune-In (TV/Radio/Media) at 16%:
More Viewers for Season Three?
When we last left the crew from “Halt & Catch Fire”, more than just a little change was in the air, such as adultery; divorce; software failures; the securing of venture capital and a move to California. You’ve got to hand it to the writers and directors of this show who have certainly created enough pivots to keep this series fresh and entertaining. The real trick, however, will be to finally monetize this critically acclaimed drama with a larger Live audience that – surprisingly — has not yet materialized over the first two seasons.