SALES OFFICE BY STACEY LYNN SCHULMAN

Why Broadcast Still Wins With Viewers

What broadcast networks do particularly well is build nights of television with audience flow. This is why, despite the appearance of a few bright spots in cable television, viewers are not congregating and staying with cable content throughout a night in the same way they do with broadcast. There is content there, but collectively, it’s not much of a draw. It takes more than a handful of original shows to create a destination for viewers.

One month into the launch of the new fall season, some new network brands have begun entering the viewer mix.  Or have they?  While the industry pundits debate the relative merits of each new broadcast show on the schedule, several cable premieres have not-so-quietly entered the scene.

The most notable is AMCs The Walking Dead, which premiered first in its time period and fourth for the week among all programming sign on to sign off. Cable has been airing  alongside broadcast for decades now, but only recently has begun airing originals against broadcast’s best. So how have they fared so far?  Fair.  With the exception of The Walking Dead, there were only four other original series that made the Top 100 programs last week — and only one of them was a brand new show — FX’s American Horror Story: Coven (ranked 55 among adults 25-54). Most of the new entries finished between 15th and 50th for the night among viewer choices.

Why is this so? The success of network television has always been about the strength of the bench more than the highly promoted new shows. Sure, you need to knock one out of the park every few years — but the core schedule is the key. Advertisers know this, too. Buying new shows is like buying a lottery ticket. If the show doesn’t work, it will be replaced with something that does better. But if you’re in a winner, you ride the wave of cultural currency. So, it’s win — WIN BIG.

What broadcast networks do particularly well is build nights of television with audience flow. Throw all your Big Data on TV viewership into a giant algorithm and you’ll find that one of the strongest predictors of any show’s success is still its lead-in. And when you actually look at how program fans cluster together, again you’ll find that shows that air on the same nights are the strongest predictors of each other.  

This is why, despite the appearance of a few bright spots in cable television, viewers are not congregating and staying with cable content throughout a night in the same way they do with broadcast. There is content there, but collectively, it’s not much of a draw. It takes more than a handful of original shows to create a destination for viewers. Each program is a building block of not only the night’s entertainment, but the network’s brand identity.

So why, with infinite choice, control and personalization, do audiences still flock to broadcast television? Still watch TV in a linear progression? Still spend 40% of their time on a handful of networks?

Barry Schwartz knows why. It’s the paradox of choice. Despite the belief that more choice breeds greater freedom, Schwartz argues that infinite choice is paralyzing and actually makes us unhappy.  Which brings us back to broadcast television, a known entity with original, high-quality content every night of the week. New characters are surrounded by, familiar ones, and we settle in for the night. We know what to expect, and anticipate some entertaining surprises. And that makes us happy.

BRAND CONNECTIONS

All about sales and advertising, Sales Office appears in TVNewsCheck through the cooperation of TVB, which solicits the columns from its staff and members. To read more columns in the series, click here.


Comments (8)

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Gregg Palermo says:

October 25, 2013 at 8:58 am

At least the guys in sales MUST live in denial.

alicia farmer says:

October 25, 2013 at 9:42 am

Cheerleading much?

Wagner Pereira says:

October 25, 2013 at 10:24 am

Typical comments from “The Sky Is Falling” posters. Fact is, she makes very good point with her facts which cannot be disproven by any of the naysayers.

Ellen Samrock says:

October 25, 2013 at 12:26 pm

I’m curious to know how this stacks up against online viewing. The cable nets may be withering away against the broadcast networks but could it be that VOD viewing from services like Netflix or Hulu is outpacing everyone?

    Martha Palmer says:

    October 25, 2013 at 2:38 pm

    According to Nielsen’s 2Q Cross-Platform Report, Viewers 2+ spent 44 hours and 52 minutes per week with live TV, :45 minutes with video on the Internet and :15 minutes with video on mobile devices. Truth be told, the mobile number is probably not accurate because we don’t have a good way to measure it yet. As for VOD on MVPDs, the greatest % of VOD viewing to an individual broadcast program this fall has been 8% within the first 3 days of air – and that was to ABC’s Marvel Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. in its second week. That 8% was mostly FF-disabled too — so viewers saw all of the commercials. TVB is reporting on VOD every week with our weekly VidLytics analysis. You can get it here for free: http://www.tvb.org/measurement/VidLytics

    Ellen Samrock says:

    October 25, 2013 at 6:37 pm

    Thanks for the reply, Stacey. I’ll check the tvb.org site more regularly.

matt fess says:

October 25, 2013 at 1:31 pm

Amen Stacey. Some common sense, research backed reporting. In our market, weekly cumes for local broadcast TV are as high today as there were 12 years ago. TV rocks!

    Wagner Pereira says:

    October 25, 2013 at 7:05 pm

    Unfortunately, the usual negative posters cannot handle it when statements are backed with facts.


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