It cracks me up.
Every year, the broadcast networks, the media pundits and other such entities lament the continued erosion of viewers. The calamity janes of the industry sound the death knell for the end of television and proclaim that viewers are disappearing like characters in an Agatha Christie novel. Such is the concern on Wall Street, as reported on Deadline last week about a study conducted by Nomura Securities’ Michael Nathanson.
First off, viewers haven’t gone anywhere. They may not be watching broadcast television, live or at all, but they’re still watching television. They just watch it online (which begs the question as to whether or not that still counts as watching television), primarily watch live news and sports or have given up on broadcast television altogether in favor of cable. Couple that with the added competition from On Demand, internet surfing and the increasingly popular video gaming and available viewership is further fragmented.
But can the broadcast networks REALLY blame viewers? They program their schedules with a focus on an A1849 demo, when the average age of the TV viewer is 51, and leaving out older viewers over the age of 55 who have the longest relationship with television of any viewer. Even within that “coveted” demo, greater focus is placed on the lower end of it who don’t watch television in the same way the higher end does…and never will. Today’s 18-year-olds were born in 1994 (yikes! I was already in high school!) and came of age during which computers, the internet, DVR and online viewing had already begun altering how we watch television.
Chasing after those elusive eyeballs somehow makes sense to the broadcast networks and advertisers because the conventional wisdom is that viewers of a certain age or higher are already loyal to their chosen brands. Their eyeballs are therefore considered undesirable by them in comparison to those under 35 who aren’t necessarily so set in their ways.
But such thinking is just as outdated as their continued focus on A1849. Older viewers are not as old as they used to be. They are more internet savvy and brand flexible. Like their younger counterparts, they are probably more interested in bargains in these questionable economic times. Those that aren’t have more dispensable income at their disposal than their younger counterparts -- and have the means to use it. Plus, they exist in greater numbers than any other segment of the population – if they aren’t already. A wise marketer would find their existence impossible to ignore. Last week, Media Life Magazine made a case for targeting consumers of a certain age.
Though these undesirable viewers have yet to abandon the broadcast networks who have all but abandoned them, the broadcast networks must to be mindful of something else they tend to do: program their schedules for the advertisers who drive their business than the viewers who drive their business. The broadcast networks don’t seem to realize that advertisers, collectively, will always follow the eyeballs they want. So it would make more sense to me that the networks generate as much viewership as possible with their programming to draw the advertisers as opposed to catering to the advertisers with programming that will draw only a select, premium segment of that viewership.
I have always maintained (and always will) that if you go for the eyeballs you will get your segment. Case in point: the un-hip, under-buzzed, largely demo-unfriendly NCIS on CBS is the most-viewed scripted program on television with an average of just under 19 million viewers so far this season (its TENTH!) -- almost three times that of any scripted program on NBC and FOX. Consequently, their 3.6 demo rating number so for this season (its TENTH!) is also higher than that of any scripted program on NBC and FOX, which tend to resonate more strongly in the demo than in total viewers.
Now some contend that there is a lot of wasted viewership with NCIS on a percentage basis for those advertisers targeting younger viewers. Though I believe there is no such thing as a wasted viewer, consider the unrealized value of those older viewers and the aforementioned focus on eyeballs could hardly be a waste. Besides, they may actually bewatching the commercial as opposed to texting/tweeting/updating their facebook status in the meantime.
So where have all the viewers gone? On an aggregated basis, nowhere. But the “coveted” ones? Well, they’ve largely given up on broadcast television. And who could blame them? Consider the programming – snarky, insider comedies and complicated high concept dramas that are here today and gone tomorrow. Gone are the broad, mass appeal comedies and character-driven dramas of the 1980s and 1990s that where actually given more than two weeks to become even a moderate hit.
Television scribe Ken Levine, who wrote many episodes of comedy classics Cheers and M*A*S*H, laments on the current state of broadcast network television with a great entry on his well-regarded blog about how network interference has reached problematic levels and another great entry about legendary NBC executive Brandon Tartikoff, who is credited with nurturing Hill Street Blues, Cagney & Lacey and Cheers into hits by hiring the best people to do their best work and then leaving them alone to do it.
Such wouldn’t be the case today -- which may be part of the reason why, as Levine notes, network shows used to get 30 shares but now get 2’s and 3’s but are still considered hits by their promotional machines.
Cable television found its niche not by being a junior version of the broadcast networks, but by emerging as its own entity. Save for the more traditional, more widely-viewed CBS, the broadcast networks find themselves trying to compete with cable instead of being true to their former selves by developing new hits that will prove valuable in syndication and support their long-standing revenue model.
To the broadcast networks: you are BROADcast for a reason. You can’t support yourself by going niche. That’s what cable is for. And if that wins them Emmys, then so be it. You go for the eyeballs or we'll considered Christie one prophetic novelist.
There was much focus earlier this week on Hurricane Sandy – especially when it made landfall on the Jersey Shore and in New York City. But there were a few interesting developments in television that snuck in under the collective radar.
UP ALL NIGHT
It was announced that Up All Night starring Christina Applegate, Will Arnett and Stewart Award winner Maya Rudolph, will be switching from a single-camera format to multi-camera.
This was rather surprising news as I figured the low-rated series, which already had a major tweak in storyline by cancelling the Ava show-within-a-show aspect that formed the basis of the show’s original premise, would just fill out its existing order and then be cancelled.
However, the format switch could a) breathe new life into the series and b) extend the life of the series itself. While the format shift would put it out of place with the Thursday night lineup of single-camera comedies, 30 Rock and The Office will be off the air after this season. Their departures will free up NBC to build a night of multi-camera comedies on Wednesdays (perhaps, as it stands, with Whitney, Guys with Kids and Up All Night itself should they make it through to next season) and continue with their single-camera comedies on Thursday (perhaps, as it stands, with Parks and Recreation, Go On,The New Normal and Community should they also make it through to next season).
My guess is that Guys with Kids will see a second season and Up All Night a third. Coupled with two new multi-camera comedies, NBC will begin to build a Wednesday night presence of multi-camera comedies opposite ABC’s lineup of single-camera comedies (CBS and FOX run dramas). My second guess is that this will be the last season of Community, which will leave NBC with only one more programming hole to fill on Thursday (especially since they are not going forward with The Office spinoff starring Rainn Wilson) -- perhaps with another single-camera comedy opposite CBS’s hour of multi-camera comedies (ABC and FOX run dramas).
Such a format shift is not unprecedented as both The Odd Couple in 1971 and Happy Days in 1975 performed the same switch to great results creatively and in popularity with viewers.
Ken Levine wrote an entry about the format switch of Up All Night on his blog with his thoughts on the switch.
Due to low ratings and despite its own shift to a live format earlier this year, the second-year talk show Anderson Live will not be renewed for a third season.
This was another surprise announcement as I figured that Cooper was rather untouchable because he’s a) Anderson Cooper and b) has had such great success in recent years – largely with his work on CNN’sAC360, co-hosting the New Year’s Eve Countdown with Kathy Griffin and as a guest co-host on Live with Kelly and Michael.
Though four months after his official coming out as a gay, could there be a correlation? It’s a stretch and highly unlikely but the thought did cross my mind. And what a difference a year makes. Last year daytime television was filled with out and proud gay talk show hosts – Nate Berkus, Cooper and Ellen DeGeneres. With the cancellation of Anderson Live, Ellen goes back to carrying the banner for out gays in daytime entertainment next season.
ABC made me very happy the other day in ordering the Back Nine episodes of the second season of Scandal, which airs Thursdays at 10pm after the declining Grey’s Anatomy and stars Kerry Washington as a Beltway political fixer Olivia Pope.
For those that haven't been watching Scandal, it is much deserving of a breakout season. While Washington is always great to watch, co-star Bellamy Young as First Lady Mellie Grant is a force of whip-smarts and cunning. As such, she has taken from Sue Ann Nivens herself (Betty White’s Happy Homemaker from The Mary Tyler Moore Show) and mastered the art of delivering a scathing line with a genuine smile.
Tony Goldwyn also shines as the conflicted President Fitzgerald Grant, who is in love with Olivia. Joshua Malina, who will always have me as a fan because of Sports Night, also appears as U.S. Attorney David Rosen who is often at odds with Olivia. Jeff Perry, who endures in my mind as Mr. Katimski on My So-Called Life, is Cyrus Beene, the partnered Chief of Staff. And Guillermo Diaz as Huck is both scary and endearing in his internal struggles and fierce loyalty to Olivia.
From a creative and production standpoint, ABC needs to go ahead and decide on a third season instead of waiting on the ratings to come in each week. They can always change their mind or they can actually believe in the show and stand by it until it becomes a hit.
It worked for Castle.
What have we learned this week? Advertisers need to wise up, Up All Night takes on an audience, even Golden Boy Coop is penetrable and you should be watching Scandal.