Sunday, 12 May 2013

Is the shine starting to wear off our fandom?

Alexa ranking for Equestria Daily since spring 2011
Let's put our fandom in perspective: MySpace, even now, ranks about 500
Season 3 of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic has not been universally well received, and some people have suggested that it marks the beginning of the end of the "brony fandom". While I think that that's considerably overblown, I do think there's an argument that it could mark the beginning of the end of the fandom as a phenomenon. In other words, it could be starting to transition from a huge and sprawling mass into a rather smaller, rather quieter place for those who truly love the show.

One measurement we can look at is the Alexa ranking of a highly popular fandom website — and of course, in this fandom the best known and most popular site of them all is Equestria Daily. The graph reproduced above shows the changing fortunes of EqD over the last two years, in terms of the site's daily traffic rank. The way this works is simple: the most popular site in the world (yes, scores 1, the next 2 and so on. In other words, a lower score means a higher ranking.

I think we can pick out several distinct periods in what we see above. To help illustrate this, I've marked a number of significant dates with a red dot. Here's what I think can be discerned:
  • 2011: Strong growth. At least until late in the year. The first dot shows the S1 finale in May, while the second one shows the S2 premiere in September. (Remember only having to wait four months between seasons...?)
  • Early-mid 2012: Consolidation. Traffic stays quite steady, although overall there is a slight increase, until the third dot: the peak of the S2 finale. "A Canterlot Wedding" remains the high point of EqD's Alexa ranking to this day.
  • Later 2012: Steady with a blip. After several quiet months, there's a sudden drop in early summer. I can't explain this, and it might simply be a feature of a change in the way stats are recorded. This ends when S3 previews become available in early autumn (fourth dot).
  • 2013: Decline. The fifth dot marks the broadcast of the S3 premiere, and from there on in the trend is clearly downhill. This is disguised to some extent by the large peak for the season finale (last dot), but the fall is nevertheless unmistakable.
So, having noted all this, what conclusions can we draw from it? My own view is that this is nothing terribly surprising: we've reached the point at which Pony is no longer the newest, shiniest fandom on the block and so those without a relatively deep attachment to the show are beginning to peel off. The same goes for those who are in it for the memes. Had the S3 finale not attracted such interest and controversy, the trend would have been even clearer.

It's a long time until S4, and I do wonder whether Hasbro have made the wait a little too long. Of course, they need a space to allow Equestria Girls its time in the sun, but that's showing next month: surely My Little Pony could have been given an autumn slot, as with S2? I think the steady decline will probably continue over this summer, with the unknown factor being whether EqG attracts or drives away fans.

Over on UK of Equestria recently, I asked the question "Where will the fandom be in 10 years' time?" and the consensus was that it will be much smaller but still with a core of fans; after all, there's plenty of precedent for recognisable fandoms continuing long after their official source material has stopped being produced. I think the Alexa figures may show that this process is starting to happen. Much therefore rides on S4.


  1. I'm guessing the decision for an S4 was a last minute one, as we had lots of signs pointing to S3 being the end, so it's not surprising they didn't have anything already in the works to start a new season, thus the extended time.

    I hope to take it as a good sign that they're going to keep going the extra mile for really good writing, instead of a thrown-together "Why spend money on kids, they won't know good writing anyway" attitude.

    1. Just occasionally, I wonder whether the best thing might be for the writers to have already been told that S4 *will* be the end. The reason being that that might allow them to throw caution to the wind and write everything they'd always wanted to. Obviously Hasbro would veto some things anyway, but I do have a hunch that S4 will be a good deal more satisfying overall than S3. I hope I'm right in that!