The news that the network is going to let people binge-watch the entire new David Duchovny series immediately following the debut of the first episode over the air reduces the NBC affilates — and the O&OS — to carnival barkers. If broadcasting is going to continue to thrive, the networks need to give it their full attention. For its part, NBC should be sharply focused on improving primetime, it should not be dabbling in the binge-watching business.
NBC’s ‘Aquarius’ Looks To Be A Bad Sign
It’s one thing for the networks to keep ratcheting up the reverse comp payments it demands from affiliates. It’s another thing to ratchet them up while devaluing the product the networks are selling to the affiliates.
That’s just what NBC is doing with its plan to make available on NBC.com and VOD all 13 episodes of its Aquarius for one month immediately after the true-crime series debuts on the network on May 28.
So any viewer enticed by the two-hour broadcast premier will be able to binge-watch the entire series while the affiliates dutifully play out the one-hour shows one Thursday at a time in normal broadcast fashion in June and July.
In this scheme, the affiliates — and the O&Os, for that matter — are reduced to carnival barkers.
The affiliates started losing exclusivity to network programming in 2005 when Disney/ABC starting selling ABC shows on Apple. Since then, current network shows have been popping up on new platforms just about as fast as they are invented.
But, with few exceptions, the affiliates could tell consumers and advertisers: “You saw it here first.” After May 28, NBC affiliates will no longer be able to make that claim.
The trailer for the series is smart and good-looking, but then aren’t they all. David Duchovny plays an L.A. cop who is caught up in the Manson family killings that terrorized the city in the summer of 1969. Supplying what could have been a great tag line for the series, Duchovny’s character quips: “The love generation plays tough.” If nothing else, the series should produce a great soundtrack.
Affiliates with whom I spoke say NBC is spinning the move as a experiment, which suggests NBC will do it again if successful. That’s a grim prospect for affiliates as it puts them in the unhappy position of rooting against the network.
In a Time online column, James Poniewozik suggests that NBC is simply trying to keep up with changing media times. “Binge-ers wanna binge, and if networks don’t give them that option, someday someone else will.”
Yes, someone else will and, in fact, others are, most notably Netflix and Amazon. But that doesn’t mean that NBC has to be in that business, too.
In today’s helter-skelter media world, the broadcast model has proved remarkably sturdy and resilient. A new study by RBC Capital Markets released today found that network broadcasting is least vulnerable to the new wave of OTT services that are threatening to bust up the cable and satellite programming bundles.
“Some might argue [the broadcast channels] could easily fall out of the bundle since viewers can simply pull them off the air,” the study says. “The reality is they have seen virtually no sub shrinkage versus the cable [programmers], which have had 2-3 million sub losses [in 2014], on average.”
If broadcasting is going to continue to thrive, the networks need to give it their full attention. For its part, NBC should be sharply focused on improving primetime — needless to say, it needs some improving — and in restoring the standing and credibility of its news division.
It should not be dabbling in the binge-watching business.
I’m a fan of NBC Entertainment Chairman Bob Greenblatt because of his bold commitment to airing live, big-budget musicals each December. He started with The Sound of Music in 2013 and followed it up last year with Peter Pan. Despite Pan‘s so-so ratings, he is stepping up again this year, producing The Wiz based on the 1978 film in partnership with Cirque du Soleil.
That kind of programming is what broadcasting is all about — or should be.
But I get a feeling that with Aquarius, Greenblatt is reverting to his cable programming roots, trying to create a program that will be judged on its critical merits, not on its ability to draw big broadcast-type audiences.
Indeed, according to The Hollywood Reporter, the producers have cut two versions of the show, one for broadcasting and one, presumably edgier, for streaming.
Reverse comp has been hard for affiliates to accept, but for the most part they have. They have done so with the understanding — sometimes explicit, sometimes implicit — that the money will be invested in programming, be it the NFL, the Olympics, primetime sitcoms or dramas or live musicals.
And they have done so with the understanding that they will be the primary showcase for that programming — that they may not to the sole outlet, but that they will be the first.
With Aquarius, NBC is reneging on that deal. No one know what appeal the series will have. But whatever audience the affiliates draw, it will be smaller than the one they would have gotten had NBC not siphoned off the binge viewers.
In a canned statement, Greenblatt crowed about pushing boundaries and doing “something no broadcast network has done before.”
I suppose that’s true. He’s innovating, but not in ways that benefit the affiliates. They should hope this is not the dawning of a new age.