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Why Shonda Matters

Netflix’s huge deal to lure Shonda Rhimes away from ABC was all about audience size, as TVREV’s Alan Wolk pointed out last week. And when you look closely at Rhimes’s work on long-time home ABC, it’s easy to see the expected benefit for Netflix. The Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal and How to Get Away With Murder showrunner doesn’t just create compelling television. For viewers, her involvement ends up compelling them to watch and react.

A look at the most recent seasons of Grey’s, Scandal and Murder tells the tale. According to data from emotion analytics company Canvs, Rhimes herself is name-checked in a significant portion of emotional reactions (ERs) during these programs. For Grey’s, that number is 6%. For Scandal, it was 10% for this past season, while Murder (which, unlike Grey’s and Scandal, Rhimes didn’t create, though she’s executive producer) was at 2.8%.

Take a look at the total ERs for each program during its most recent season:


Each program topped reaction rates of 30.5% for the season, and the dominant emotion was “love” across the board, making up an average of 23.9% of the total ERs.

Looking at their full seasons, the shows were MVPs overall at ABC. Excluding sports and special events, all three shows were among the top six on ABC from Sept. 22 through May 25 in terms of ERs. Their only real competition? Juggernaut reality programs The Bachelor and Dancing With the Stars, plus daytime stalwart General Hospital.

Compared to all TV dramas, across all networks in the same timeframe, Grey’s, Scandal and How to Get Away With Murder ranked third, fifth and sixth, respectively, in terms of total ERs.

A look at Grey’s Anatomy’s ER spectrum this past season:


Those devoted audiences showed up for the ads as well. Data from iSpot.tv, which measures attention and view rates for TV ads directly from millions of smart TVs, shows that ABC has been churning out bankable attention to its advertising in its linear programming, with Rhimes as a driving force.

Across the latest season, ads appearing during Grey’s Anatomy had an attention score of 90.37%, according to iSpot. Both How to Get Away With Murder and Scandal topped 90% AVR as well, with Murder leading the way among the three at 91.31%.*

Car brands were the biggest winners of all during Rhimes-led shows, too.

Ford’s “First-Time Drivers” scored above 99% AVR during Grey’s and Murder, while Toyota and Chevrolet scored high marks (also topping 99%) for their own spots that ran during Scandal. Technology and travel ads were also big winners. Spots by Google, Samsung, Expedia and Emirates all scored AVRs above 98% as well.

Rhimes may not be taking those advertisers with her to Netflix (at least not in the traditional sense). But based on the passion for her shows exhibited in emotional reactions this past season, the audience seems likely to come along.

*iSpot tracks TV ads 24/7 across linear, VOD, OTT and time-shifted viewings, from a panel of 10 million connected TVs. Attention scores are based on average view rates, the percentage of an ad that, on average, is viewed across all airings of that ad during a live broadcast.