'Mr. Robot' Can't Hack Its Way to Higher Ratings

Guerilla Marketing Stunt May Have Eaten Into Premiere Deliveries

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Rami Malek and Christian Slater in USA Network's 'Mr. Robot.'
Rami Malek and Christian Slater in USA Network's 'Mr. Robot.' Credit: Virginia Sherwood/USA

USA Network's critically acclaimed hacker drama "Mr. Robot" put up unspectacular ratings in its season two opener, averaging just 1.04 million viewers over the course of its 90-minute Wednesday night run, down 41% from the 1.75 million who tuned in for the year-ago series premiere.

While the overall audience took a big hit, the all-important demo results were much more stable. According to Nielsen live-plus-same-day data, the two-part "Mr. Robot" premiere delivered a 0.43 rating in USA's target demo, which works out to about 545,283 adults ages 18 to 49. That marks a 7% decline from the 583,326 demographically relevant viewers who tuned in for the June 2015 series opener.

Given the outsized presence "Mr. Robot" enjoys on social media and all the critical accolades it has garnered over its lifespan -- the show was nominated Thursday for six Emmy Awards, including nods for outstanding drama series and outstanding lead actor in a Drama Series -- the premiere deliveries were somewhat disappointing. That said, "Mr. Robot" should win back a good deal of commercial impressions in playback; in its first season, it established itself as USA's top-rated show by averaging a 0.7 rating in the C3 currency spanning a three-day period, up from a 0.5 in live-same-day.

If the ratings suggest that "Mr. Robot" isn't about to shake off its cult-favorite status to become a bona fide breakout, at least some of the losses may be explained away by simple cannibalization. As part of a deft marketing maneuver that played off the show's paranoid, non-conformist obsessions, USA for a few short hours on Sunday night made the season opener available across a number of digital platforms. (The first half of the two-part premiere began streaming on Facebook Live after members of fsociety, the show's fictional coterie of hacktivists, "interrupted" a promotional Q&A session with "Mr. Robot" cast members.)

Shortly after the episode streamed on Facebook, followers of the show's Twitter account were advised that it would also be available to preview for a limited time via Snapchat Discover, YouTube and usanetwork.com. As the streams were not archived, those who missed their chance at getting the jump on fsociety's latest acts of subversion would have to cool their jets until Wednesday night's official premiere on USA.

As was the case with the very first episode of "Mr. Robot," last night's installment was presented with very little in the way of ad support. USA scheduled just three commercial breaks, which housed 180 seconds of paid-for airtime.

The select group of paying customers included Quicken Loans, Hewlett-Packard Enterprise, Paramount Pictures' "Star Trek Beyond," Absolut, Travelocity and Expedia. The Quicken and H-P Trekkie-themed spots included brief call-outs to the theatrical's July 22 launch.

USA also ran a 90-second promo for its new Thursday night drug cartel drama "Queen of the South" and a 30-second teaser for its veteran legal strip "Suits," which leads into "Mr. Robot" at 9 p.m. "Suits" edged OWN's "Greenleaf" as the night's top-rated scripted cable series, averaging 1.85 million viewers and a 0.53 rating to "Greenleaf's" 1.79 million/0.52.

Lastly, the series premiere of the increasingly obligatory live after-show, "Hacking Robot," averaged 376,000 viewers and a 0.2 rating at 11:30 p.m.

"Mr. Robot" returns next Wednesday for another 90-minute episode. USA is expected to run a standard ad load in the show's second outing.

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