NBC

What Defines a TV Hit (to the networks)

Posted on July 31, 2008. Filed under: ABC, broadcast, MediaPost, Michael Durwin, NBC, Sci Fi Channel, tv ad | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

In a recent post on MediaPost’s TV Watch, entitled ‘Mad Men’ A Hit? Try  Whopping TWO Million Viewers, author Wayne Friedman discusses the success of AMC’s Mad Men. The drama, based on a 1960’s Madison Avenue advertising agency and it’s creative director (who makes me jealous with his afternoon scotch and big budgets) just premiered it’s season two opener to an audience of 2 million. Friedman compares the show to The Sopranos’ 13 million viewers and The Closer’s 8 million. He doesn’t discuss the ridiculous viewership of reality shows such as American Idol or Big Three programs such as Desperate Housewives, whose ratings I’m sure, eclipse those of Mad Men. His article wonders just what constitutes a success. In his mind this is a huge success, if only by AMC’s standards. I completely agree. However, there is anothr angle to be taken:

The kinds of ratings such as those for Sopranos and Desperate Housewives are going to be increasingly hard to come by. ONLY 2 million may seem small compared to the Sopranos or reality programming like American Idol, but, regardless of what network they’re on, the days of national hits or shows with global appeal (such as I Love Lucy and ER) are rapidly coming to a close.

While the networks may blame the Internet for declining viewership, which certainly plays a part, they’ve also done it to themselves. There is just too much niche programming. And that’s a good thing. A program with a more niche appeal makes for a more loyal, if smaller, audience. If you’re smart enough to target your ads appropriately to that audience, you’ll get better conversion. The Sci Fi Channel is a great example. While viewing the season opener for their original series Eureka, I found 50-75% of the ads were sci-fi themed.

Hopefully networks and advertisers are getting this and we won’t have to lose quality shows like Carnivale and Journeyman.

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Good TV: Good bye or a Bad Buy

Posted on June 29, 2007. Filed under: 50 Cent, advertising, Apple, Battlestar Galactica, blog, Boston, Britney Spears, broadcast, Cat Deeley, CDs, Chris Isaac, Debbie Allen, Heroes, Jessi, Lauren, Mary Murphy, Michael Durwin, NBC, Nigel Lythgoe, NIN, Nine Inch Nails, NSYNC, Pasha, Sci Fi Channel, So You Think You Can Dance, Star Trek, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, The X-Files, Tori Amos, tv ad, User Generated Content |

Tonight was a night of goodbyes. Many of us said goodbye to Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip before we even got to know the characters. I’ve commented elsewhere on NBC’s decision to cancel this fabulous show. I don’t get it.
Another how with a goodbye was So You Think You Can Dance. My wife got me into this show and I’m a bit hooked. It’s your basic competition like American Idol or Top Chef without the nasty behavior. Dancers are paired off in couples and perform a different type of dance each week. The public is allowed to vote and the bottom 3 couples each have to dance solos to stay in the competition. Judges choose one male and one female to drop from the competition based on their solo performance. Last week, just prior to her performance Jessi collapsed and was taken to the hospital. Her partner Pasha dances with his instructor’s assistant. Because Jessi missed her performance she must automatically dance a solo along with those in the bottom 3. Follow me so far? Turns out she was fine, some heart trouble due to dehydration.
Every show opens with the entire cast doing a routine. So Jessi performs in this routine. Then, so the audience, can see how Jessi and Pasha’s dance should have looked, they perform their number. Then all of the bottom 6 dancers, 3 couples do their solo, in addition to Jessi’s 3rd dance of the night.
Now, I’m no dance expert but it is clear to see who has a better performance. The judges tell all 4 female dancers that they were sub par, singling out Lauren for taking 15 seconds out of her 30 second routine to walk onto the stage and take her jacket off before dancing. Then Nigel abruptly tells Jessi she’s out. No explaination whatsoever, no feedback and apparently it was not a unanymous decision. I’m interested to know who wanted to keep her. My guess is Debbie Allen, dancing instructor extraordinaire. It was a 2-1 vote. I’m guessing that Nigel, the show’s producer and his employee Mary voted to kick her off to save themselves from liability.

You might wonder what the hell I’m doing talking about areality show about dancing, on Fox no less and Studio 60. The two have something in common. The networks made a mistake and will pay for it.

I’m usually someone who is very biased against the music industry. I think they waste too many of our airwaves shoving talentless hip hop thugs and pop princesses down our throat with cotton candy crap they we won’t remember past their two hits. But for every half dozen Britneys and 50s their are artists with substance like NIN or Tori Amos. Artists like these are hardly everyone’s cup of tea. Compared to someone like NSYNC they have a relatively small following. Unlike NSYNC and other flash in th epan bands they have a loyal following. I’m not talking about screaming fans that have riots outside hotel rooms, but fans that will continue to buy their music for decades. One hit wonders subsidize the cost of keeping artists like Chris Isaac who consistently puts out great, but not chart topping records.

If the music industry followed the TV model, all you’d have is one hit wonders and the hoodlum of the week. You’d see one, maybe two records and that’s it. You might even just hear a single and never see an album release.

There was a time when the networks would keep a show on long enough for it to come into it’s own. If Star Trek: The Next Generation was put on the air today, it would be lucky to last the season. It took years for that show to mature and to generate a large audience, but once it did, the momentum was enough to support several movies and 3 more series.

That’s not to say that every show should be on for 7-10 years. Another one of my favorites, Battlestar Galactica, despite being a sci-fi show, has shown amazing writing and character development. Like very early NYPD Blue in space. It started with a mini series to see if there was enough interest, then launched into a full-fledged series. Season 3 finished recently. Season 4 will be coming, if rumors serve, in late 2007. This will include a spin-off prequal 2 hour tv movie, then back to the original storyline for 22 episodes rather than the usual 13. If these last bits of information aren’t strange enough, the show also announced that this would be the last season. Shutting a show down after 4 seasons isn’ odd. What is odd is that the show is at the top of it’s game. The producers merely felt that, rather than drag the show on, lose it’s stars and viewers like the X-Files, they would take an extended break and wrap the series up with a bang.

But this is far out of the ordinairy for networks. Some shows barely make it through the first season before they are axed. Networks don’t dont nurture shows any longer. They shove them out of the nest. If the show flies right away, such as Heroes, they’ll let it go on. If it doexn’t attract the key demographic within a few weeks it’s the axe.

What they are missing though is that as consumers/viewers become more fragmented and more demanding, with more choices, neworks will find that they have fewer and fewer shows that have global appeal. They, like other businesses, will find that they’ll need to cater to ever more, yet smaller groups who will expect the same quality. What that means is more money per viewer. Networks won’t have a choice, the people are in charge now and if networks don’t get that, they’re going to be in trouble. There are alot of other distractions out there besides TV.

This brings me back to Studio 60 and So You Think You Can Dance. NBC had a great show right out of the box. Granted it didn’t appeal to everyone, but it did appeal to a good sized niche market that weren’t avid TV watchers, that were somewhat older, more affluent. Sounds like a good crowd to sell commercials too huh? Obviously it didn’t sound good enough to NBC. Besides outcries and petitions, it will be hard to judge how taking away that audiences favorite show will effect NBC.

So You Think You Can Dance might not be so lucky. Viewers were supposed to help choose the winner, but were left out of last night’s choice. I think there will be a major viewership change because of this. You can’t tell viewers that they are responsible for picking the bottom 3 and then have the judges through a fan favorite under the buss unceremoniously without expecting a backlash. I hope someone makes the numbers public on this one.

Enough TV talk from me. Chances are all I’ll be doing for the rest of the summer is watching Battlestar Galactica reruns on my iPhone. I’m off to line up at my local Boston Apple store at lunch time today. Wish me luck.

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Oh, Snap! Web 2.0 is Destroying the World?

Posted on June 19, 2007. Filed under: advertising, Andrew Keen, BBC, Blair Witch Project, Boston, Boston Metro, Britney Spears, CDs, Consumer Generated Content, Dave Mathews, Fantastic Four, Grammy's, Massachusetts, Michael Durwin, NBC, new media, Nirvana, Paris Hilton, Shrek, Tool, User Generated Content, Web 2.0, White Stripes, YouTube |

Andrew Keen was interviewed in today’s Metro Boston discussing who Web2.0 was ruining the Internet and culture in general. He states in his new book “The Cult of Amateur: How Today’s Internet is Killing Our Culture”:
“millions of millions of exuberant monkeys … are creating an endless digital forest of mediocrity,”

Keen rips apart user-generated content as a threat to existing cultural standards saying that anyone with a keyboard and a camera or a microphone can make their own news, movies or music and disseminate it on the web. The crux of his stand is that this is disintermediating Hollywood, news outlets, record labels, etc. He further states; “My fear is that if Web 2.0 continues it’s sort of idealistic rampage through mainstream media, we’re going to be left with nothing but this level playing field, and professional media is going to be undermined.”

Wow! 

What Keen is missing is that the cause behind the surge in user-generated media is the basic law of supply and demand. If the demand did not exist, the supply would dwindle. Why are there so few horse-drawn wagon repair shops? Because something better came along that people wanted: cars. The public constantly complains that today’s films and music, for the most part, suck. That’s not to say that there aren’t great movies and CDs being made. What is true is that many are jammed together, lowest-common-denominator targeted rehashing packaged for mass consumption. There wouldn’t be a half-dozen independent film channels if the public was happy with the available cinema. Certainly the latest Shrek or Fantastic Four has it’s audience (me for one), and a large one at that. But the public is fragmenting by choice. They are no longer willing to accept what they are force fed and are looking elsewhere for entertainment that touches them on a deeper level. I heard recently, so it may not be true, that most movies lose money. This is most likely due to the enormous operating costs of the studio, actors, special effects, directors, marketing, etc. Yet a little movie like the Blair Witch Project, made for $60,000, made over $29 million in it’s opening weekend. This was filmed with a small crew and limited cast, virtually no special effects, unless you count flashlights, and was marketed on the web by it’s writer and director. Blair Witch 2 was made for $15 million and made only $13 million it’s opening weekend. This one was made by a major production company. By the way, the original gets an 8 out of 10 stars rating while the major studio version got only 2 out of 10 stars.

There is a serious movement to abandon network news and news paper outlets in favor of consumer-generated news, blogs or the BBC. Many feel that due to their focus on the bottom line, network news agencies are focusing more on local drama or celebrity gossip than international news. As a musician, you don’t want me to get started on what record labels have been pushing. Keen says “I think record lables historically have found and polished marvelous talent.” Is he kidding?! Does he listen to the schlock on the radio? Are the Britney’s of the world really marvelous talent? Let’s not forget the Paris Hilton CD. This is typical of record company offerings. You don’t get very many White Stripes, Tools or Dave Mathews. Whether you like bands like this or not, they are quality musicians, writing quality music and releasing quality CDs. Not pre-packaged tarts with a crew of 50 year-old songwriters and mixing board gurus that represents a majority of record company releases. What he additionally fails to mention is the financial structire of record companies. Most bands don’t even make money from their CDs, the record companies keep it. Most must rely on ticket and t-shirt sales.

If anyone is killing our culture it is the very few that sit at the top of the heap of news outlets, record companies and film companies. They are the ones who continue to push watered-down, titilating, bland a rehashed content. By doing so they are creating a need that will only be filled by independents, consumer generators, etc. Consumer generated content will never be mainstream, it will always be nitch due to the very nature of it’s fragmented targeting. This blog will never be read by the millions that read the New York Times. I’l lbe lucky if it is read by dozens. But what blogs, YouTube videos, Virb bands etc. do for our culture, besides filling the need left by Big Media, is to keep those guys on their toes. It has always been true that the underground becomes the main stream once the big corporations figure out a way to monetize it. That’s not a bad thing. Once Nirvana started selling millions of records and made it to the Grammy’s, it created a new counter culture that hated grunge. 

It’s cyclical and circular. 

Unfortunately it seems like Andrew Keen and his supporters only see a curved line. Smart marketers like those at NBC and the other networks are taking advantage of technology that wouldn’t exist, web video, or be popular if consumers hadn’t been pushing forward it all along. Even the big media magazine Time realizes the importance of the consumer. Keen seems to feel that it is big media’s job to give consumers what big media thinks is appropriate. This is like a parent talking to a child. Consumers want a conversation. They’ll give their hard earned dollars to big media, only if big media listens to them, and gives them what they’re asking for. I wonder how Keen would feel if he went to an ice cream stand and was automatically given chocolate or vanilla. What if he wanted orange sherbet? What if the kids across the street from the ice cream parlor started selling home made sherbet? Should they be stomped out because they were destroying the culture of vanilla and chocolate? They may put the parlor out of business, the business may buy them out, but one thing is for sure, we all benefit from the choices being offered.

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Save Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip

Posted on June 15, 2007. Filed under: Jericho, Michael Durwin, movie promotion, NBC, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, User Generated Content, viral marketing |

Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip

If the fans of “Jericho” can bring it back from the dead, why won’t fans of “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip” convince NBC to bring it back for another season?

Read the rest of the article here:
http://blogs.mediapost.com/tv_board/?p=99

My Response:

I agree with Jack in his appreciation of Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. It seems that broadcasters are so hungry for a show that targets the entire population that it overlooks shows that can attract a smaller, intelligent viewership. With that ideal it’s no wonder that almost every show on is so watered down, politically correct and intent on being unoffending that they don’t strongly appeal to anyone. I remember heated debates about Martin Sheen’s Presidential decisions on West Wing as if he was really the President (I wish). I highly doubt that Deal or No Deal, America’s Got Talent or 30 Rock inspire such thought.
The fact that a show can attract an audience that rarely watches tv is amazing. Has NBC considered that they just tapped into a new revenue stream? Maybe they should take a lesson from their own show and load up on a few reality shows aimed at the masses to counter a couplle of smart, contemporary dramas. I guess they could even play it safe and broadcast Law and Order: The TV Studio.

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NXNE? Boston is missing out!

Posted on April 18, 2007. Filed under: advertising, Austin, blog, Boston, Boston Independent Film Festival, Boston Phoenix, Boston Underground Film Festival, broadcast, Chris Cooper, Chris Kataan, consumer marketing, Cream, Grindhouse, indie films, Luke Wilson, Massachusetts, movie promotion, movie trailer, NBC, new media, North by New England, North by No'Easter, Robert Rodriguez, Sony Pictures, SXSW, texas |

A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to be able to attend the Independent Film and Interactive portion at SXSW. As you may or may not know SXSW began a a music festival that eventually attracted signed acts, celebrities and record companies. It has since expanded to include independent films and interactive marketing. I’ve blogged several times on what a great experience being involved in SXSW/INT was but not about SXSW/Film.
Boston of course has IFF, BUFF and others across the eastern part of Massachusetts. What Boston doesn’t have, but is perfect for, is a cohesive festival. There are alot of great people doing alot of hard work on a volunteer basis and I applaud them. The problem with the dozen or so film festivals around the New England area is attendance and visibility. SXSW’s film attendance was over 5,000, including the interactive portion, over 10,000. Many of the interactive attendees, myself included, attended many of the film events including parties, movie premiers and panels.
Of course with that kind of attendance the quality of the material goes up, the quality and quantity of celebrities goes up. At least 3 indie film makers I met have distribution deals now and one in particular is beginning development on new shows for NBC.

I got to attend the premier of Knocked up and got to hang out with the cast. I got to see cool cips of Grindhouse and drink for free while Robert Rodriguez jammed on stagae at a club. I got to see someone I’d just met almost get punched out by Luke Wilson. I saw Chris Kataan (I think) fumbling in his backback while some girlie pop song was ringing on his cell phone. Plus a bunch of really creative and fun people got to meet, network and get discovered. Even parts of the music festival overlapped as some bands arrived early, not the least of which were members of Cream who stayed at my hotel.

This kind of visibility, excitement and possibility is lacking from the Boston indie film festivals. Not for lack of quality films or hard work, merely by the fact that they divide attention. The idea that the whole is more important than the sum of it’s parts has never been more true.

Here’s hoping that someone like the Boston Phoenix or Chris Cooper can convince the local festivals to start working together. Maybe we can get some of the hi-tech companies and design agencies to help with an interactive festival and the local radio stations to have dueling events too. We’ll have to call it North by New England since oronto already scored North by Northeast. Maybe North by No’Easter?

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