Tiffany Vogt

Posts Tagged ‘Primetime’

TELEVISION NOW: Has the Era of the Big 5 Finally Begun to Topple?

In * By Tiffany Vogt, * Opinion columns, * TV Addict on April 10, 2013 at 12:05 pm

TVset

For the past decade we have been hearing how the television industry is becoming increasingly outdated. But that was more a reflection on its slowness to embrace new technology – whether it was digital media, social media or just recognizing that cord-cutters are growing by leaps and bounds. Less acknowledged is the reality that the Big 5 networks of television are also falling by the wayside due to their dinosaurian programming slates. At the century mark, television was still dominated by the Big 5 of ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox and the CW.

CBSShows not seen on those networks were few and far between – make that “scripted” shows.  There was always plenty of “reality TV” fare to be found, whether it was game shows, competition series, cooking shows, sports or recycled movies.  But the last decade launched not only new changes in how television was consumed via the Internet, but where it could be found. Freed by cable and satellite providers from being locked into just a few broadcast channels, new scripted fare began popping up all over the dial.

AMCWhere it used to be virtually unheard of outside of networks like USA Network and Syfy to dabble in creating original, scripted content as of today there are more networks than ever trying to carve out a piece of the broadcast pie.  It is no longer unheard of for average TV viewers to venture outside of the Big 5 and sample and tune in for shows on networks like FX, TNT, TBS, USA Network, Syfy, PBS, AMC, A&E, BBC America, History Channel, ABC Family, Lifetime, Sundance, and more.  Also jumping right into to compete with the “big boys” are newcomers DirecTV, Netflix and Amazon.

Television is not just about viewing shows on a square box in your living room anymore, it is content that can be viewed by any medium (television set, satellite dish, iPad, netbook, tablet, smartphone).

So with the newfound freedom to consume TV shows through multiple outlets and no longer tied to programming schedules thanks to DVR’s, on-demand, iTunes, and watching online, the proliferation of original content began to soar.  Unfettered by normal constraints of having to be streamed through the Big 5 pipeline in order to reach its audience, television shows discovered an independent audience using alternate content providers.

ABCAt first, the Big 5 shrugged with unconcern over the multiplying competition.  Their attitude was:  so what if they lost a few million viewers, they had plenty to spare.  While that may have been true initially, this past two years have proven otherwise.  The slow siphoning of viewers has led to mass erosion of viewership.  The Big 5 were no longer pulling in 7 to 30 million viewers per show, they have begun to see their viewership rapidly dwindle down to the 2 to 7 million range.  Three years ago a TV show only pulling in 7 million viewers was certain to be canceled in a heartbeat.  In today’s ratings climate, 7 million loyal viewers can be considered a rock-solid number (assuming it has the sufficient demograph number to back it up).

None of the top 10 television shows can boast 30 million viewers, not even the reality TV champs AMERICAN IDOL, THE VOICE, SURVIVOR or DANCING WITH THE STARS, which average 10-13 million viewers.  Even 20 million viewers seems far out of reach for these long-time juggernaut series.  Back in its hey-day the drama series CSI could easily hit the 30 million-viewer mark, and these days it averages around 10 million.  Today’s scripted TV king is NCIS, which hovers around the 20 million mark.  But that is an aberration. Most scripted shows on television today average much lower, between 7 to 10 million viewership, and there are huge fluctuations in those numbers depending on all kinds of factors, from everything such as: holidays, sports preemptions, political/news announcements, as well as the increasing number of people relying on time-shifted viewing.

But, by far, the biggest contributor to viewer erosion amongst the Big 5 networks as been increased competition from other networks.  As I wrote about in February 2012 in my article: “Our Television Pie Theory: An Analysis of Available Viewers and How We View Competition on Television”, there is only so many viewers to try to lure to TV shows.  There may be 315 million people in the United States, most of which have television sets, but even for major events like the Super Bowl or the Oscars, not even 50% actually tune in to watch. (An estimated 108 million watched the Super Bowl and only 40 million watched the Oscars.)

NBCAt any given time during the day/week, there is approximately only 35-40 million viewers available to watch all the shows combined.  That’s because despite our high unemployment rate right now, which hovers at the 7.9% mark, there are still over 160 million people who are working and they have limited time to actually consume or watch a television show. The rest are just too busy with their daily lives.  (See my November 2011 article “The Intangibles Killing TV”.)

In addition, as stated in my December 2012 article, “So Many Shows, So Little Time: The Fight To Be In a TV Viewer’s Top 10!”, it has become virtually impossible to convince viewers to check out new shows simply because they have reached their saturation point.  There is, after all, only so many available hours to watch TV in a day and viewers are being extremely selective in what they will watch.

CWSo with the ease of watching more TV shows made possible by the ever-changing and advancing technology, combined with the multiplying competition from dozens (if not hundreds) of networks and content suppliers (both via traditional broadcasting and on the Internet), viewers are in the midst of television nirvana.  They can literally pick and choose what they want to watch, when they want to watch it.

This has led to an interesting shift in the power rankings of Hollywood.  No longer is “television” constrained to the Big 5 and what they deem worthy of viewers’ attention.  Instead, viewers now have control and what they watch is dictating what is power-worthy in scripted content.  Long gone are the days where shows like ER, LAW & ORDER, CSI, LOST and DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES dominated the ratings.  These days shows like THE WALKING DEAD, THE BIBLE, GAME OF THRONES, DOWNTON ABBEY, SONS OF ANARCHY, MAJOR CRIMES, HATFIELDS & MCCOYS, VIKINGS, DUCK DYNASTY, and dozens of other shows you may not heard of are dominating viewers’ attention.  Those shows’ ratings are literally blowing other shows off the ratings-grid.

HISNetworks like AMC, FX, History Channel, A&E and TNT have quietly become the ratings juggernauts of today, closely followed by PBS, HBO, Showtime, and USA Network.  Comparatively, these networks are pulling in massive ratings for relatively few shows.  So their production costs and expenditures are slight compared to one of the Big 5 which must fill 15-20 primetime hours with TV shows a week to compete.  While AMC, FX, A&E, TNT and the rest may not yet be offering 15-20 hours of original scripted programming, they are getting a lot closer.  2013 is an unprecedented year as more and more content-providers are expanding their original content, each seeking a bigger piece of the viewership-pie and, astoundingly, getting it.

Viewers are not only embracing the new era of content-providers, they are seeking it out – and not just on their television sets.  Viewers are turning to the Internet for original programming as well, as indicated by the sheer massive numbers of YouTube viewers for such series as “The Lizzie Bennet Diaries,” a modern video adaptation of the classic Jane Austen book “Pride & Prejudice.” (LINK: http://lizziebennetdiaries.tumblr.com/)  Currently “The Lizzie Bennet Diaries” has exceeded 30 million combined views for its 100 webisodes (which will be released on DVD thanks to a successful Kickstarter campaign which ends April 22, 2013).  In fact, to date, it has already exceed its Kickstarter goal by 600% with another two weeks remaining.

FXSo what does all this mean?  It means CBS, Fox, ABC, NBC and the CW have good reason to worry.  Their impenetrable television-base is crumbling from beneath their feet, as their former monopoly on original TV series and content are continuing to wither and erode. The siphoning-effect by the increased number of competing networks and the rise of Internet-only content has stolen their viewing audience – and it does not look like viewers are coming back.

This is great news for viewers who can happily choose amongst the vast array of content to their heart’s delight; but this is the death-knell for the former Big 5 television networks; and the clock is ticking down to see on which of the Big 5 the curtain will fall first.  Given the mass exodus of viewers from NBC, many entertainment pundits have speculated that it will be the first; though with a few standout shows clinging to their ratings, NBC is not totally out of the game yet.  So as the Big 5 desperately claw to retain traction in the current television market place, perhaps the more interesting question is which of other content-providers shall soon replace the former Big 5.  Some would say that day has already arrived after watching how effectively THE WALKING DEAD, DOWNTON ABBEY, SONS OF ANARCHY and dozens of other shows have effectively trounced their competition on all five of the former champion networks.

Never before has the game of television been so in flux and the change is fascinating.  There is indeed a change coming and the Big 5 are toppling.

Where to find this article:

 

http://www.thetvaddict.com/2013/04/10/tv-now-is-the-era-of-the-big-5-networks-officially-over/

 

 

Dear Showrunners: The Top 5 Signs Your Show Isn’t Going To Make It

In * By Tiffany Vogt, * Opinion columns, * TV Addict on September 25, 2012 at 12:00 pm

Hollywood is a brutal business. But that is because it is subject the whims of a very fickle consumer base – the television viewing audience. Viewers have a whole list of reasons they will not watch a television show, let alone why they tune in and then tune out in rapid succession. But looking out across the recent crop of television shows offered by the Big 5 television networks, there are some very simple reasons some of these new shows are going to fail.

Here are the top 5 reasons television shows fail:

Bad Name

As any poor elementary kid saddled with a misfortunate name can tell you, names matter. It can make the difference between being popular or ridiculed. It can also be a precursor to success. In television, it is even more important. Unfortunately, it is as if show creators and studios use a bingo concept and simply pull a name out of a hat. But name recognition and branding is essential. It clues in viewers what the show is about and why they should watch it. It is the single biggest lure to a show.

Shows like BATTLESTAR GALACTICA and FIREFLY are perhaps some of the best shows to ever grace the television screen, but viewers ran away before even checking them out. The names either carried the weight of a previous incarnation or did not identify what they were really about to clueless viewers. Even the short-lived TERRIERS knows all too well how detrimental the wrong name can be to a great series. Viewers could have sworn that was a show about dogs, and not a cutting edge detective series.

There are undoubtedly countless other good examples of poor nomenclature killing a television series before it even aired, or which handicapped it as the show struggled to find an audience. But for the 2012-2013 television season, the new crop of shows alternate between the good and the bad name choices.

Here’s the list of some of the new show names: THE MOB DOCTOR, REVOLUTION, PARTNERS, BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, ARROW, LAST RESORT, NASHVILLE, VEGAS, ELEMENTARY, BEN & KATE, THE MINDY PROJECT, GO ON, THE NEW NORMAL.

Based on name alone, I know I couldn’t have guessed which of these shows was going to grab my attention, but I suspect that some viewers are going to see these names and make their decisions simply on whether the name is interesting enough to check out. That is their loss, because behind these names lie some great shows. Everyone should make a point of watching the shows before judging them – otherwise, they will be pulling their hair out about how they missed the boat on a great television show.

Bad Execution

How many times have we all read about a really cool sounding television show, only to watch it and wonder how they screwed up such a great idea? It happens all the time. What sounds good on paper can be ruined by poor execution. That can happen in the writing process, the production process or even in the editing process. Without the foundation of all the key elements need to bring a television show to life, a series can limp onto the television screen – leaving viewers to wonder how that was even possible.

Here’s a good clue about how this happens: studios are banking on big names of stars or showrunners, when they should be relying on the quality of the product. This is why studios have a “pilot” season. It is to allow a creator to bring their vision to life and to see if what they end up with matches the cool concept that the studio heard in the pitch room or read on the page in a hot script.

But each year hundreds of TV pilots are made, and only a few actually make it to series. That is because most shows do not live up to the expectations of what the studio thought it was getting. It is their job to prescreen the pilot and keep the less than stellar ones off the broadcast airwaves. But every now and them, one slips through. Perhaps it is faith that the show’s creators or producers will find a way to polish the show and bring it around to the standard they were expecting. Unfortunately, viewers are never that patient. They do not give shows a chance to turn into a great show; they expect that a show will be outstanding right out of the gate.

So, if a show just isn’t strong enough right from the start, do not waste the opportunity to showcase another series, which may actually stand a chance when in the crosshairs of a fickle television audience.

Bad Casting

Just like a bad name can sink a show, so can the wrong cast. Having a star that cannot carry an entire series is detrimental. Sure, there is always the chance that everyone will focus on how great all the supporting actors are, ignoring how awful or simply wrong the lead is, but that it rare, if not unheard of. Then there are other times when the entire cast just feels unbalanced and like they were simply thrown in a show together, and that is just as unforgiveable.

The secret to Hollywood magic is casting. Getting the right combination of actors and personalities working together can bring a show to life and make it must-see for anyone watching it. From FRIENDS to SEINFELD, it is nearly inexplicable, but when the magic happens, but that is what makes a great show. Studios are normally very careful about approving show leads or an entire cast if it’s an ensemble. When watching a new series, one should never think, “oh, they just need time to settle in and gel with each other.” Shows like FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS have it from the second they are on screen.

Most of this season’s crop of series demonstrate faith in their competent actors, but very few have that feeling of magic. Magic is when you cannot take your eyes off the screen. It can also elevate a modest series to a great series simply because the actors are that riveting to watch.

Ever wonder why THE VAMPIRE DIARIES is the CW’s number one show? If you haven’t figured it out yet, then I recommend you tune in and just watch its attractive cast parade across the screen. That show knows it is all about the eye-candy. But in that case, it is not that the actors are simply attractive, they are addictive on screen together. The interpersonal chemistry screams for attention – and they get it.

What will be the shows everyone is talking about? The ones that caught our attention – that means a great lead and an addictive cast.

Bad Pacing

Let’s face it: time is a precious commodity. As television viewers, there are thousands of constraints on our time each day. Thus, television shows must keep up with the flow of our everyday lives and compete. When the average viewer sits down to dedicate an hour of their time to watch a TV show, it had better engage their attention immediately, or they will be turning the channel or finding another show to watch. This is where it is hard for scripted programming to compete with reality TV. Reality TV thrives off finding the hook, the drama, the salaciousness of their characters and using that to keep its audience locked in. But for scripted shows, it can be harder to lay a foundation and keep viewers tuned in long enough for them to figure out what is going on and why they should care about the characters.

The rule of thumb is 5 minutes. If something compelling hasn’t happened in the first 5 minutes, then the viewer is changing the channel or at least wondering if there wasn’t a better way to be spending their time. But even a strong opening scene will not sustain a series if the remainder of the episode or subsequent episodes do not keep up the pace to keep the viewers’ attention from wandering. One of the best ways to hook a viewer is not just with an action sequence or non-stop action scenes, but also to find a way to make the viewer care about the core character(s) within a few minutes. If you can answer the viewer’s question: why should I care? Then you have hooked your audience. Viewers will be indulgent of slower pacing stories if the hero or main cast is compelling enough to follow throughout each episode. Give us a reason to care, and we will keep tuning in.

Bad Timeslot

All of that being said, if a show has gotten past the first hurdles of bad name, bad execution, bad casting, and bad pacing, nothing can really save a show if it gets stuck in a bad timeslot. Many successful television shows have jumped around timeslots trying to find their perfect fit. It is an absolute gift to get the right timeslot right from the start. Even LOST jumped around as it tried to find its perfect niche over its 6-season run. Then there are shows like NCIS who landed in its perfect spot and has not dared move in its entire 10-year run. There is an art to television broadcasting, not unlike a game of chess; and each move requires a countermove to keep strategic balance on the board. When ONCE UPON A TIME debuted in the 8 pm timeslot on Sunday nights last year, it was virtually guaranteed to succeed simply because it was the perfect timeslot for the show. It had a Disney-esque feeling to it and the fact that it featured fairytales made it felt like a natural fit for the old Sunday night Disney movie timeslot. Plus, there was virtually no competition in the timeslot. Its competition was geared towards an older audience and thus a family-friendly show fit perfectly in the timeslot.

Another show that won the timeslot lottery last year was GRIMM. Friday nights at 9 pm is considered a “death slot.” Yet as GRIMM showed, there was an audience ready and waiting for it. GRIMM was also a natural fit in its timeslot despite the competition from SUPERNATURAL and FRINGE. It simply is the kind of show that viewers are looking for on a Friday night and, as a result, it flourished.

Several of the new shows this season are going to find themselves timeslot-challenged. The best example being the new ABC series LAST RESORT. Not only does the name create a handicap as it is not clear that it is a military drama and not a frolic-on-the-beach reality show, LAST RESORT is also airing Thursday nights at 8:00 p.m. Traditionally, that is an awesome timeslot. But in today’s modern era, and sandwiched between stiff competition with THE BIG BANG THEORY, THE X FACTOR, 30 ROCK and THE VAMPIRE DIARIES, it is hard to see if there will be any available viewers to carve out in this timeslot. Perhaps there are, but it is going to be a challenge.

Conclusion

And these are just a few of the factors that can kill a television show. To read more about other factors that determine the fates of television shows, be sure to check out my earlier articles:

“The Fall of Smart TV: Why It Is Disappearing Off the Television Landscape”

2011-2012 Television Renewal Speculations: Are You Ready for the Blood-Bath?”

“The Collapse of Primetime Television: Where Are Television Shows Going Wrong?”

“A ‘Pie Theory’ for Television: An analysis of available viewers and how we look at competition on television”

The Intangibles Killing TV”

“Losing Momentum Can Be Detrimental to Television Shows: How to Stop the Hemorrhaging”

“The Secret to Television Success: Why some TV shows are succeeding when others are failing?”

Here are a few of the new TV series that caught my attention for the 2012-2013 primetime season:

“What Are the Hot New Shows To Look Forward to For the 2012-2013 Television Season?”

Where to find this article:

http://www.thetvaddict.com/2012/09/26/showrunning-101-the-top-5-signs-your-show-isn%E2%80%99t-going-to-make-it/

The Collapse of Primetime Television: Where Are Television Shows Going Wrong?

In * By Tiffany Vogt, * Opinion columns, * TV Addict on February 22, 2012 at 2:00 pm

February is a make-it-or-break-it month for a lot of television shows.  It is a sweeps month where ratings for all television show are vital to determine the longevity of any show.  Sweeps occur in November to test the viability of new and returning shows; then in February, to test new mid-season shows and again check the pulse of existing shows; and in May, to show advertisers and networks that they are getting their money’s worth and demonstrate that there is an existing audience willing to come back the following Fall after the usual 3-4 month hiatus.

The average viewer has no real awareness of “sweeps” months — other than it guarantees some really cool guest appearances, big stunt episodes and a possible heads-up that there may be a hiatus period afterwards in which television shows are M.I.A. as they play catch-up.

TV's broken heart

This February, however, has been a blood-bath for most TV shows, new and existing alike.  This is typically the time of year when viewership is at an all time high because people are stuck at home during the winter months and seek solace in front of their TV sets.  However, 2012 is proving to be the exception to the rule.  People are not sitting at home and watching TV.  They are doing anything but watching their television sets at the appointed times — and it is sending sharp-spasms of fear throughout every television producer and programmer in the industry.  Where have the viewers gone?

It is the one thing that programmers are supposed to be able to guarantee:  a prediction of trends of viewing patterns throughout the year.  Millions of dollars are spent tracking viewership and the daily/weekly Nielsen ratings are scoured over to ensure that every last nickel is squeezed out of advertisers as networks and TV shows deliver the promised viewing eyeballs.

But again, 2012 is proving to be an anomaly.  There is more content than ever and yet viewers are checking out.  What is going on?  Why are viewers running away from their TV sets?

Here are a few speculations:

Appointment television is a thing of the past.  As we have speculated previously in the article “A ‘Pie Theory’ for Television: An analysis of available viewers and how we look at competition on television” – viewers just aren’t bothering with “live” TV.  Viewers are savvy enough to know that unless they have a Nielsen box, it doesn’t matter anyway.  The knowledge that no one is really tracking their personal viewing habits combined with the proliferation of DVR’s has freed viewers up to attend to their personal lives and to stop worrying about catching their favorite shows when the shows are broadcast.  Instead, television shows can be recorded and watched at another time.  In fact, it has never been easier to watch TV whenever and wherever you want.  Exercising that freedom, viewers are less likely to tune-in and watch “live” television broadcasts anymore.  Viewers are choosing to watch TV shows whenever they have time – not whenever the show is being aired.  Such freedom has been previously denied to viewers and now that they have it, viewers are happily using every means possible to watch at their leisure, not when the networks demand they watch TV shows.

"The Voice"

Reality TV is kicking dramatic television to the curb.  We may hate to admit it, but we are a society that is hooked on “voyeurism.”  Peeking into other people’s lives is addictive.  We find ourselves invested in the choices they make and seeing if they can win a competition, find the perfect mate, or survive some ordeal.  Then there are people that we are simply curious to know more about.  Shows like AMERICAN IDOL, SURVIVOR, THE X-FACTOR, DANCING WITH THE STARS, THE BIGGEST LOSER, EXTREME MAKEOVER, THE VOICE are claiming obscenely high numbers of viewers each week because they offer a chance to watch real people in allegedly real situations having real experiences.   Viewers want to see the journey these contestants embark upon; for there is something inherently relatable to watching people reach for their dreams and dare to achieve the impossible.  Who will be our next super star?  Who will be the biggest train-wreck on television?  Who will have the best transformation and who will fail spectacularly?  Curiosity, voyeurism, whatever it is, there is a significant number of television viewers craving to see what happens when normal people are put in these extraordinary situations. While a recent trend reveals that reality shows are also suffering in ratings, they are still the kings and queens of television right now.

Serialized television is too fatiguing or too complicated for average viewers.  The most successful scripted shows on television right now are NCIS, NCIS: LOS ANGELES, THE MENTALIST, PERSON OF INTEREST, THE BIG BANG THEORY, TWO AND ½ MEN, MIKE & MOLLY and MODERN FAMILY.  None of these television series are considered “serialized,” meaning the audience has to tune-in each week just to keep up with the ongoing storylines.  These shows are known to be “procedurals” as they are self-contained short story episodes that are resolved within their allocated one hour or ½ hour format.  This makes it extremely easy for viewers to jump in and out without worrying that they missed something.  For a variety of reasons, viewers are unwilling to watch television shows that require them to follow a complex serialized story.  Just look at the rapidly vanishing audiences of CHUCK and FRINGE.  They were huge draws initially, but the more serialized these shows became, they began hemorrhaging viewers.  Both shows could have easily have adopted the “procedural” style of story-telling and perhaps thrived.  But seeing the potential to explore another more intricate level of storytelling, their writers embraced complex, serialized stories that took faithful fans on an amazing journey.  Alas, casual viewers quickly became confused and jumped-ship.  They did not want to have to keep a cheatsheet by their televisions to track the villains, the mythology and the characters that were jumping in and out of different realities.

"The Walking Dead"

Niche viewer markets are siphoning off viewers.  (And, by far, this is the biggest offender!) While shows like THE WALKING DEAD are pulling in 8 million viewers on AMC, no one stops to consider that the same show would probably draw significantly less viewers on another network.  If THE WALKING DEAD were on NBC or ABC, there is no way the ratings would be as high.  But because it is on a more obscure network, viewers are flocking to it thinking they have “struck gold.”  They found a hidden “gem” and are tenaciously touting it as the greatest thing on television.  Serialized television is thriving for the off-networks, like HBO, Showtime, AMC, A&E, FX, PBS, USA Television, BBC America, Syfy, MTV and TNT.  The audiences those networks are courting and catering towards claim to be exhausted by the seemingly mundane and repetitive formats found on basic networks, like Fox, ABC, NBC and CBS.  How often have we heard from elitist viewers, “Oh, I only watch shows on HBO or Showtime”?

There is an emerging trend of viewers who consider themselves connoisseurs of television and they deem shows on mainstream networks unworthy of their attention – alarmingly, sight unseen.  Incredible as it sounds, some viewers are discriminating for and against television show simply by network.  Brand identification is both a blessing and a curse when it comes to fickle and uneducated viewers.  Fox is known for its animated shows like THE SIMPSONS and AMERICAN DAD, along with a mixed-bag of comedy and drama like HOUSE, BONES, THE FINDER, ALCATRAZ, NEW GIRL and RAISING HOPE.  Fox is known as the younger, hip network.  Competing for that audience is The CW, which is known as the destination network for young teens and female viewers with such shows like GOSSIP GIRL, 90210, HART OF DIXIE, RINGER, ONE TREE HILL, THE VAMPIRE DIARIES, THE SECRET CIRCLE, SUPERNATURAL and NIKITA.  While Fox may flee from the supernatural/fantasy series choosing to dabble in safer fare like TOUCH, TERRA NOVA and ALCATRAZ; The CW is willing to openly proclaim itself as a network willing to take risks on fantasy and supernatural, particularly as its currently highest rated series is THE VAMPIRE DIARIES.  (Though it should be noted that both networks lost out when they shied away from the fantastic supernatural series LOCKE & KEY.)

"Castle"

ABC with its core audience invested in procedurals with a romantic twist, finds that its top shows are GREY’S ANATOMY, CASTLE, DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES, ONCE UPON A TIME, and the comedy MODERN FAMILY while still dabbling in more riskier fare, like THE RIVER and the upcoming series MISSING and SCANDAL. CBS has stuck with its tried-and-true programming leaning heavily on its procedurals, like CSI, BLUE BLOODS, PERSON OF INTEREST, THE MENTALIST, UNFORGETTABLE, and HAWAII FIVE-O.  That leaves NBC in an interesting position of not having really found its niche market yet.  NBC used to be a dominant player in comedies and dramas, like FRIENDS and THE WEST WING, but those days are long gone.  NBC has since struggled to find its perfect blend or brand to attract a stable viewership.  Even its flagship LAW & ORDER seems to be rocky these days.  Its current staples extend to GRIMM, HARRY’s LAW, and SMASH.  But none of these spell out a clearly identifiable brand for NBC.  It has left viewers confused and they are uncertain if this is a network they should identify with.

With the top 5 broadcast networks playing it safe and trying to stay within their newly identifiable brands, that has left the playing field open to other networks to snatch up riskier and more innovative television shows.  HBO has BOARDWALK EMPIRE, GAME OF THRONES and TRUE BLOOD.  Showtime has HOMELAND, DEXTER, WEEDS and THE BIG C.  TNT has FALLING SKIES, THE CLOSER, SOUTHLAND, RIZZOLI & ISLES, LEVERAGE and FRANKLIN & BASH.  USA Network has BURN NOTICE, ROYAL PAINS, SUITS, COVERT AFFAIRS, WHITE COLLAR, IN PLAIN SIGHT, FAIRLY LEGAL and NECESSARY ROUGHNESS.  Syfy has WAREHOUSE 13, EUREKA, HAVEN, ALPHAS, BEING HUMAN, MERLIN and LOST GIRL.  FX has JUSTIFIED, SONS OF ANARCHY and AMERICAN HORROR STORY.  AMC has MAD MEN, BREAKING BAD, THE WALKING DEAD, THE KILLING and HELL ON WHEELS.  PBS has DOWNTON ABBEY and SHERLOCK.  A&E has THE GLADES and BREAKOUT KINGS.  BBC America has DOCTOR WHO and LUTHER.  MTV has TEEN WOLF and AWKWARD. And one of my favorites, ABC FAMILY has SWITCHED AT BIRTH, PRETTY LITTLE LIARS, THE LYING GAME, and JANE BY DESIGN.

There is a saying “no risk, no gain.”  All of these networks are taking risks to lure in niche audiences.  They are not looking for shows that will guarantee 10 million viewers; instead, they are looking for shows that will draw a committed audience.  They recognize the value of siphoning viewers from the bigger networks and drawing them to their network where they can advertise a whole range of their other shows and programming.  If they can get viewers to watch one show, they have won half the battle.  As a calculated strategy, it is working.  On any given night, the off-network channels are siphoning off anywhere from 20-30 million viewers.  When the average viewing pool is only 50 million viewers, this is significant.  10 years ago, it was unheard of that viewers would regularly tune in to these specialty channels.  Today, it is a regular practice.  The strategy has worked.  It has proven that it only takes one show — and that viewership is for the poaching.

"The Walking Dead"

THE WALKING DEAD is the best example.  It returned to 8 million “live” viewers.  It is not just siphoning viewers, it has successfully poached an entire block viewership that any one of the top 5 networks would gladly give their souls to have.  Before THE WALKING DEAD, had the mass viewing audience really paid attention to AMC?  Not really.  Shows like MAD MEN and BREAKING BAD were critically-acclaimed, but rarely drew more than just over 1-2 million viewers.  THE WALKING DEAD put AMC on the map.  It is now a network to contend with.  It took a show about zombies and an apocalypse and made it “must-see” for a huge number of viewers.  That’s remarkable – and it is a strategy that worked masterfully.

Regular TV networks need to pay close attention.  Viewers are not just craving something new, they are demanding it — and the real horror is that they are simply getting it elsewhere.  Viewers want flexibility, they want innovation, and they want to “discover” great TV shows; not have them crammed down their throats.

Adjusting expectations of viewership.  But it is also a time to be realistic about the number of available viewers.  There is only a limited pool of viewers and networks need to project their audience draw and retention realistically.  Questions about: (1) what types of shows viewers are willing to watch and (2) when they are willing to watch such shows, are vitally important to consider.  Networks need to adjust their expectations about how television is currently being watched — and be just as realistic about the number of viewers available during various timeslots.  They cannot just snap their fingers and expect to command millions of viewers anymore.  Viewers have figured out that they have a lot more control over what to watch and they do not like being stuck within the “primetime” box anymore.  They also have figured out that there are more than five networks to watch.  Scary as it may be, in this modern world, television is more competitive than ever and with so much to choose from, it can be hard to sway and secure the mass viewing audience.

Television viewers aren’t running away from their TV sets, they are simply refusing to be stuck in the “box” anymore.  Technology has made watching television a world without time-constraints and boundaries – it has opened the doors to boundless possibilities.  Broadcast networks just need to figure out how to explore that new world of possibilities with viewers and not fight the tide of change.  The “dinosaur” networks will soon be obsolete if they do not figure out how to be flexible, court viewers beyond the primetime hours, and offer more brand-identifiable shows.  After all, AMC may be built on the backs of “Mad Men” and “Breaking Bad,” but it is on the shoulders of zombies that they stand.  Who knew?!

To read more about why modern television shows seem to be in decline, be sure to check out these prior articles:

“The Intangibles Killing Television”

“Losing Momentum Can Be Detrimental To Television Shows: How To Stop the Hemorrhaging”

“The Secret to Television Success:  Why Some Shows Are Succeeding While Others Are Failing”

Where to find this article:

http://www.thetvaddict.com/2012/02/23/the-collapse-of-primetime-television-where-are-television-shows-going-wrong/

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