The price of racism: ABC’s cancellation of Roseanne could cost network near $60m

Roseanne may be off the air for just hours, but its financial impact could be felt for months to come say Kantar and SDI / ABC via Twitter

The abrupt cancellation of ABC comedy revival Roseanne could potentially cost the network upwards of $60m in fall ad revenue, according to estimates from Kantar Media.

The comedy, once a top ratings show and source of reliably large ad dollars, was brought to an abrupt halt after the eponymous star tweeted a racist and Islamophobic comment regarding former chief advisor to President Obama Valerie Jarrett. Reaction to her comments leading up to the show's cancellation was swift – see tweet below for the reaction of Disney/ABC chief Bob Iger – but the impact might be felt for months.

Research compiled by Standard Data Index showed that in April, Roseanne was the fourth-most expensive comedy program in the primetime original comedy category and the most expensive show in its group on ABC.

For example, ABC’s number-two show in ad revenue, Modern Family, raked in an average of $154,708 per advertiser, compared to Roseanne’s $167,159 last month. That’s roughly $60k more than the average price of a commercial on any of the big four broadcast networks (ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox) in that span: $108,523.

The first five episodes of Roseanne brought in $8.2m for the network, as the two-part season premiere this past March earned $1.87m. Kantar estimated about $45m overall for its first season back on air, from March through May. Repeat airings of the show would only have brought in more money for the network, which now has a 27.3 million viewer-sized hole in its revamped 'TGIF Friday' night sitcom block.

Kevin O’Reilly, chief strategy officer for analytics firm TVSquared commented on the news, its impact for the television network, and who’s best positioned to bounce back from a brand safety perspective.

He said in a statement: “If Disney/ABC gives everyone a full refund due to both moral and cancellation clauses, advertisers may potentially see millions in ad spending returned. So, how should advertisers fill this void, especially when new programming content from ABC won’t draw anywhere near the number of eyeballs and ratings that ‘Roseanne’ did?

"This is where brands who continuously measure TV performance will run ahead, having an optimal backup plan by clearly knowing what they should be buying and what combination of buys will help advertisers efficiently spend ad dollars and fill the reach that ‘Roseanne’ previously provided.”

The comedienne at the center of the row, Roseanne Barr, responded to the backlash with this tweet:

Roseanne may be able to step back from her Twitter after her racist “bad joke”, but ABC will be feeling the financial “bad taste” from her joke for the months to come. And as major broadcasters struggle to find surefire ratings magnets in the cross-platform era, this appeal to Americans' love of nostalgia now has reason to get second-guessed.

Get The Drum Newsletter

Build your marketing knowledge by choosing from daily news bulletins or a weekly special.