Why "I Am Cait" Was Renewed Despite Bad Ratings

October 23rd 2015

Aron Macarow

Fans of E! reality show “I Am Cait,” which depicts the transition journey of former Olympic athlete Caitlyn Jenner, can celebrate that it has officially been picked up for a second season. The network made the announcement that “I Am Cait” will return in 2016 on Thursday, despite Hollywood industry reports that the series suffered from poor ratings.

RELATED: Why I Was Dead Wrong About "I Am Cait"

“Caitlyn’s story has ignited a global conversation on the transgender community on a scale that has never been seen before,” said E! EVP of Programming and Development Jeff Olde. “We are honored Caitlyn has chosen to continue to share her ongoing story with our viewers around the world.”

Jenner took to Twitter to comment on the news:

Conflicting reports that the program’s live-viewing audience had dropped 50 percent by the second episode—and that it continued to decline throughout the remainder of the inaugural season—left many surprised that the show would go on. So why was “I Am Cait” renewed?

RELATED: Has "I Am Cait" Made a Difference?

The answer could be as simple as advertising dollars.

The reality series was one of the year’s top six new TV series across all of cable in the 18 to 49 age bracket, which is the most highly prized viewer demographic among advertisers. The network also boasted in Thursday’s announcement that the first episode was “the biggest launch in over a decade in the [main demographic] for E!” with the July 26 premiere garnering the top spot as “the most-watched unscripted series launch” for 18 to 49 year-olds for 2015, the Wrap reports.

“The live/same day ratings do not tell a complete story in regards to ‘I Am Cait’ viewers,” NBC Universal’s Cristel Wheeler told The Advocate. “It’s a much sexier story to say that ratings are in free fall, which is completely untrue. The L3 numbers show the docu-series is steady, with an average of 2.5M total viewers.”

Translation: By some measures, particularly online streaming and DVR, the show was a great success.

It’s also about more than numbers.

A cultural turning point

Despite criticism of the show, “I Am Cait” was a cultural turning point for many with a reach that transcends numeric measurement. In an interview with Ravishly, co-star Jenny Boylan describes the response that Jenner received at a Boy George concert in Los Angeles after the show began airing:

“[A]s we entered the stadium there were thousands of people shouting, ‘Caitlyn, Caitlyn, Caitlyn,’ like she was a rock star. Here are people chanting for a transgender woman. It’s insane. I’ve seen nothing like that before.”

RELATED: 10 Powerful Reactions to the 'I Am Cait' Premiere

ATTN: spoke to others who expressed similar sentiments about the visibility that “I Am Cait” garnered for the transgender community.

Diana Phillips of Los Angeles, whose brother transitioned, expressed that the show had opened doors to productive conversations that she wouldn’t have otherwise had.

“The more people that we see publicly being brave, strong, sharing their truth—I think that can only help the trans community. [The show] allowed me to have more conversations with people, to say ‘hey, this is my experience’ and that’s been really helpful,” Phillips told ATTN:.

Washington, D.C. based lawyer Casey Pick explained that the show had impacted her advocacy, both in her outreach to conservatives and people of faith and in her work directly with transgender people:

“When I was helping clients as an attorney at a pro bono name and gender change clinic, each person I worked with mentioned Caitlyn Jenner to me. These women [...] couldn’t be more different from Cait—in race, socioeconomic status, in the reception to their transitions and the paths they’ve traveled—but they found something in common with her, something precious in her experience on-screen.”

And yes, it is helpful that Jenner is a transgender Republican, according to Pick, because it makes her more relatable to conservatives who may not have personal relationships with transgender people in their daily lives.

Even though I was disappointed by some aspects of season one, I am excited about a second season of “I Am Cait.” There are so many more stories to be told, and E! has proven to be a surprisingly good partner in the telling.

Here are Aron's reviews of 'I am Cait' Season 1:

Episode 1 - Why I was Dead Wrong About 'I am Cait'

Episode 2 - Caitlyn Jenner Just Confronted a Harsh Reality About the Trans Community

Episode 3 - Caitlyn Jenner Is Going Through a Phase of Transition That's Often Ignored

Episode 4 - The Word That Divided Viewers of 'I Am Cait' This Weekend

Episode 5 - 'I Am Cait' Tackles a Major Part of Transitioning

Episode 6 - 'I Am Cait' Highlights the Biggest Issue Trans People Face While Dating

Episode 7 - The Community That "I Am Cait" Continues To Ignore

Episode 8 - Has "I Am Cait" Made a Difference?