Sci Fi Channel

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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