For all the talk of erosion, fragmentation and irrelevance, the Big Four remain at the pinnacle of the TV ziggurat. That is worth repeating again and again because marketers, advertisers and media agencies can get distracted by all the digital jiggery-pokery. Here’s just one example: With Thursday night football available on CBS and the NFL Network last season, nearly five times as many adults 18-49 watched on CBS as on the NFL Network across the eight-game schedule. What’s more, in that same key demo, CBS (5.9) and NFL Network (1.3) combined to deliver 157% more viewers than the NFL Network alone did in 2013 (2.8).
In accepting the Arthur Ashe Courage Award at the ESPYs last week, Caitlyn Jenner stood up for transgender youth who are being bullied, driven to suicide and even murdered. “If you want to call me names, make jokes, doubt my intentions, go ahead because the reality is, I can take it,” the Olympic decathlon champion said in her 10 minute speech. “But for the thousands of kids out there coming to terms with who they are, they shouldn’t have to take it.”
It was good television. Her much anticipated presence at the awards so soon after her coming out helped drive the household rating for the telecast up 264% over last year to a 5.1 and the men 25-54 rating up 92% to a 2.3.
But it wasn’t just curiosity about just Jenner’s transformation and what she might say that accounted for the boost in viewership. It was also the network. After two decades on ESPN, the cable network that spawned the awards, the ESPYs moved to ABC.
Now it is true that ESPN is the crown jewel of Disney’s TV assets because of the extraordinary programming fees it commands, but it is also true that if Disney wants to reach the most people, garner the most attention and charge the highest ad rates for an event, it turns to its other gem, ABC. By moving the event to ABC, Disney helped ABC and the event.
Like the other Big Four broadcast networks, ABC reaches the broadest possible audience and has an ability to promote tune in that cannot be matched by any cable network or any other medium.
For all the talk of erosion, fragmentation and irrelevance, the Big Four remain at the pinnacle of the TV ziggurat.
That is worth repeating again and again because marketers, advertisers and media agencies can get distracted by all the digital jiggery-pokery. (I thank Justice Antonin Scalia for resurrecting that term.)
Broadcast networks benefit from their medium. It reaches every TV set in every home where the real TV watching is done. But what makes the broadcast networks special — a cut above the competition — is that, in league with their O&Os and affiliates, they program every hour of every day as if it matters.
The networks’ morning shows and evening newscasts remain national institutions. Their primetimes still have the highest concentration of quality programming. The O&Os and affiliates offer several hours of local news each day, embedding themselves into the culture and souls of their communities.
TVNewsCheck doesn’t have a research department and access to Nielsen numbers to lay out the definite case for broadcasting. But it has strong anecdotal evidence.
After NBC informed Donald Trump it wanted nothing to do with his Miss USA pageant because of ugly comments he made about Mexican immigrants, the pageant scrambled to find another TV outlet. Surprisingly, it did — Hubbard Broadcasting’s obscure Reelz cable network, which appears in my home in SD only in the FiOS channel stratosphere.
Last year on NBC, the pageant attracted 5.6 million viewers. On Reelz, it lost 84% of that audience, pulling in just 925,000.
Until Trump convinces the world that he really didn’t mean what he said about the Mexicans or he relinquishes his interest in the pageant, no self-respecting network will touch it. Another season or two on Reelz and Miss USA will have to pack up the butt glue and décolletage makeup and close shop.
The best current example of the extra punch that broadcasting delivers is NFL Thursday Night Football. Prior to last season, the NFL licensed CBS to simulcast eight Thursday night games that it had originally planned to telecast only on its in-house cable channel, the NFL Network. CBS paid a hefty sum for the privilege.
So with two places to watch the very same game, which did America turn to? To CBS, of course. And it was no contest.
According to an analysis by TVB, nearly five times as many adults 18-49 watched on CBS as on the NFL Network across the eight-game schedule. What’s more, in that same key demo, CBS (5.9) and NFL Network (1.3) combined to deliver 157% more viewers than the NFL Network alone did in 2013 (2.8).
The dominance of broadcasting was more pronounced in markets where the home teams were playing. For instance, for the Sept. 11 showdown between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Baltimore Ravens, the NFL Network posted a 3.1 ratings among adults 18-49 in Baltimore, while CBS’s O&O there, WJZ, did seven times better with a 21.9 in the demo.
The difference in Pittsburgh was more remarkable. The NFL Network posted a 1.4 while CBS’s KDKA did 15 times better with a 21.2. Did you get that? FIFTEEN TIMES BETTER!
That WJZ and KDKA would do so much better than the NFL Network is not surprising. The stations are closely associated with the teams because CBS holds the TV rights to teams’ regular Sunday games as well as to all the other AFC teams. The stations are the electronic rallying points for the fans.
Happy with the results of 2014, CBS will be simulcasting eight more Thursday night games this season starting with Denver-Kansas City on Sept. 17. Nine of the 16 teams on the Thursday schedule are from CBS O&O markets. Baltimore-Pittsburgh is slated for Oct. 1.
The CBS telecast’s numbers will be big; the NFL Network numbers will be some fraction of CBS’s.
So, there in a nutshell is the case for broadcasting. Some 70 years after introducing television to America, the broadcast networks remain on top. No other TV medium — not cable or satellite or digital in its many manifestations — has managed to knock them off. And as far as I can see, none will.
P.S. Here’s one last fact from TVB in case you are not yet convinced: Ninety-three of the 100 most watched shows on TV during the 2014-15 season were on broadcast.