Ratings for various tokusatsu and other programs that air on Japanese TV are more abundant and easily-obtained than ever. Where once fans had to wait for magazines to print the ratings, now ratings for a program can arrive as quickly as 24 to 48 hours after a program has aired. They’re usually shared first on Japanese fan forums like 2ch, then archived on wiki sites and webpages. From these sources, they quickly propagate into our English-speaking fandom.
This easy access to ratings information has begged the question of what the ratings mean, or if they even really matter. Some fans would argue that since the real money in a Rider show comes from toy sales, then surely only the toy sales figures really matter. After all, what else but toy sales numbers can accurately measure how well Rider shows are doing with kids, the property’s target audience?
This line of argument is half-true. It’s correct that toy sales figures are very important to Toei and Bandai. The mistake is assuming that only merchandise sales can measure enthusiasm among children for a given Rider series. This is not true. TV Asahi certainly has ways to profit off of Rider shows that are popular with children, and ways to measure that popularity.
There are two ways to calculate television ratings, by population and by share. When ratings are calculated by share, they’re a percentage of how many people were estimated to be watching TV at that particular time. When ratings are calculated by population, the numbers are a percentage representing how many people out of the total population viewed the program. Which system is used generally just depends on what’s customary for a given country, with some countries using both.
Japanese TV ratings are calculated by population. So when the first episode of Kamen Rider OOO pulled a 10% standard rating for its first episode, that means that roughly 1 out of every 10 Japanese citizens watched it. In this regard, Kamen Rider surpasses most other competing toy-selling children’s shows to become a national phenomenon. It’s comparable to how big general audiences turn out for blockbuster superhero films, even if a lot of the tie-in merchandise is for kids.
Demographics in ratings refers to the study of tracking not just how many people out of the population watched a show, but the age and sometimes the gender of those who watched. For Japanese programming like Kamen Rider, there are eight major demographic groups to consider. Note that these demographic breakdowns aren’t used in any way to calculate the standard ratings we get each week from 2ch. The standard rating simply evaluates viewership based on the total Japanese population, without taking into consideration exactly what the people watching the show are like.
The demographic breakdowns detail which percentage of a given population group tuned into the show. When you break Japanese ratings down into demographic categories, you should remember that they’re still population percentage ratings.
This is Rider’s most important and largest demographic, generally comprised of viewers 12 and under. Generally, a Rider show’s ratings with Kids will be much higher than its standard rating, since most of the audience is children. While the lowest-rated completed Rider series to date has a standard rating of 6.2% (Kiva), the lowest average rating with Kids the Heisei Rider series has ever pulled is 11.6% (during Kiva). That rating indicates that Heisei Rider at its least successful is still being watched regularly by about 1 in 10 Japanese children. An extremely successful Rider show like Faiz can pull a Kids demographic rating as high as 19.5%, effectively drawing in 1 in 5 kids.
You might think Teens would also be an important demographic for Rider shows, but this is often not the case. The Teens demographic indicates viewers in the 13 to 19 range: middle school students, high school students, and young adults either beginning their careers or entering college. The early years in this range are a busy and stressful time in a Japanese person’s life, and as a result, younger Teen viewers don’t have a lot of spare time. Viewers in the older end of the range have more spare time, but lots of entertainment competes for their attention. They may tune into Rider and buy merchandise, but aren’t consistent about doing so. A typical Teen rating for a Rider show can range from about .5% to about as high as 8%. You typically only see the higher end of the range with hit shows.
M1 and F1
These demographic groups track viewers aged 20 to 35, with M1 indicating men in this age range and F1 indicating women. M1 and F1 together probably constitute Rider’s second-most-important demographic block. F1 viewers will tend to be mothers of young children who watch the shows as part of family time on Sunday mornings. M1 can include fanboy dads, as well as single viewers who are just enthusiastic fans of superheroes. M1 is very likely to buy lots of merchandise and high-end collector toys (like the S.H. FiguArts and S.I.C. lines). M1 is a more fickle group than F1, though, and quickly tunes out of shows it finds uninteresting or too childish. A typical M1 rating for Rider ranges from about 3% to 10%, while a typical F1 rating ranges from 3% to 8%. It’s worth noting that F1 tunes into Rider much more consistently than M1 does. That is, F1 is more likely to watch Rider every year, regardless of changes made to staff, cast, or concept.
M2 and F2
These demographic groups track viewers aged 36 to 49. It has some similarities to M1 and F1, since viewers at the young end of this range may still be parents with young children in the house (or are still single, and can afford to buy lots of collector goods). Overall, viewership in M2 and F2 is lower, since viewers at the high end of the age range tend to be at a point in life where Sunday morning superheroes aren’t especially interesting. Viewership among M2 tends to range from about 0.5% to 8%. As with teens, you typically only see the high end of the range with shows that are big hits. Among F2, the range is about 2% to 7%. For the same reasons that F1 ratings tend to be more consistent than M1, F2 also tends to watch Rider more consistently than M2. F1 and F2 together would constitute the “housewives” demographic that has reportedly influenced Rider’s production for quite some time.
“Hmm, I can’t wait to see the new
pretty boys in Kamen Rider Wizard”
M3 and F3
This demographic bracket tracks viewers age 50 and older. Obviously, this is not a major demographic for Kamen Rider. The middle-aged and elderly aren’t exactly famous for being into superheroes. Typically, you may get viewers who watch as part of family time, or who may be tuning in because a family member is really into this year’s show. Both M3 and F3′s ratings for Rider tend to be between .5% and 3%.
Standard Ratings vs. Kids Ratings
By comparing a Rider show’s standard rating average to its Kids rating average, you can form a pretty good picture of how well the property did specifically with children. Demographic breakdowns of ratings for Rider shows aren’t available for every year, though, and generally don’t become available for shows less than a year old.
So the following list is going to omit Fourze, which has no demographic data yet. It will also omit Kuuga, Agito, and Ryuki, where the demographic data is simply unavailable. Likewise, there is not yet demographic data available for any Showa Rider series.
The Kids rating average appears first in the list, with the standard ratings average appearing in parentheses behind it. Note that the Kids average for OOO is based on the show’s first 44 episodes only. Demographic breakdowns for the last 4 episodes of the series are not yet available, but will probably turn up with the first batch of demographic data for Fourze.
Faiz: 19.5% (9.3.%)
Blade: 16.4% (7.9%)
Hibiki: 13.9% (8.2%)
Kabuto: 13.1% (7.7%)
Den-O: 14.6% (6.9%)
Kiva: 11.6% (6.2%)
Decade: 13.7% (8%)
W: 14% (8%)
OOO: 14% (6.9%)
Even from a brief list like this, it is easy to tell which Rider shows did particularly well with Kids and which shows served a more general audience. In fact, you can easily tell that Den-O and OOO were shows where the majority of the viewership was probably under 13. Both Den-O and OOO sold a lot of merchandise, and their kid appeal is probably why.
Now, it’s true that you can’t tell everything about a show’s kid appeal from these numbers. For instance, kids clearly watched Hibiki; in fact they watched it in numbers almost as great as Den-O or OOO. Despite this, the Hibiki line of Kamen Rider merchandise holds the franchise’s all-time record for low sales. Knowing about Hibiki’s poor toy sales, in that case, is essential to understanding why the show gets revamped about two-thirds of the way through.
“Err… no one?”
Note that while the Kids ratings here are presented as averages, they actually tend to fluctuate wildly from week to week. The fluctuations can be as drastic as going from 20% to 8% and then back again. Any number of factors can cause these fluctuations: competing programs, holidays, or even nice weather (so families go out instead of watching TV). Keep that in mind whenever you look at episode-by-episode demographic ratings; it can be hard to guess what the Kids average would be without sitting down and doing the math yourself.
So What Does This Mean?
While it’s impossible to know exactly what Toei and TV Asahi want from Rider’s ratings, it is hopefully clear by now that we can glean some useful information about who watches the shows in Japan from the ratings numbers we have. We know that even Rider shows with ratings that appear low may actually just be doing really well with Kids, and not so well with other groups. We also know that sometimes Rider shows that appear to be doing well in the ratings may still run into problems if their toy sales lag behind, so the ratings can’t accurately measure a show’s success alone.
Hopefully, it’s clear by this point that the ratings numbers for Rider shows do matter and can be worth discussing, if fans put them in their proper context. Generally, the more information you have to go alongside a standard rating, the more useful the number becomes. Merchandising figures, home video sales, and demographic breakdowns are among the most important things to know alongside the standard rating. Toei is always going to take all of these figures into account when making decisions about Rider.
So fans shouldn’t panic just because a given show’s standard ratings average is low (as is the case with Fourze this year). Since we get the standard ratings first, we get them in a vacuum, and shouldn’t assume too much about what they mean right away. It usually takes a few years for Toet, Bandai, and TV Asahi to publish all of the data you need to rationally evaluate a show’s success (or failure). While Fourze is pulling a low standard rating, it may turn out to be a show that did really well with the target audience.