Combat the Channel Changer

[This item was originally posted to The Media Drop]

Today’s New York Times has an article entitled “Shorten TV Season? Rules Shifting at Networks” by Bill Carter. The article refers to the drastic move that NBC took when they put the Donald Trump-hosted reality show “The Apprentice” and dropped it into their “Must See TV” coup of a television block on Thursday evenings, and how that spells t-r-o-u-b-l-e for all comers as the station looks to keep its ratings high and advertisers happy.

While there are plenty of people who don’t regularly watch “Friends”, the folks that do are a boon to NBC in ratings points, and, in turn, advertiser dollars. The upcoming “Friends” finale has some very high-priced advertising slots, as in Super Bowl-type money, and not taking advantage of the situation would be silly for the network. But while having a show like “Friends” on your schedule is great, it’s not like series like that come about every day – there probably isn’t another show on television that has the same amount of loyal followers, outside of CBS’ “CSI” and NBC’s “Law & Order” programs. So to keep NBC’s loyal viewers who have been tuning in on Thursday evenings for years from changing channels, they’ve done the next best thing – take their highest rated show, and drop it in the middle of that night’s schedule. So you get the pre- and post- people who are already watching the show to stay where they’re at, and bring the viewers who might not normally watch NBC’s other programming on that evening to do so. Will “Must See TV” continue to be the mantra for that evening? We’ll see this September – but what we’ll soon hear about is the big moves that might come about with reruns and the like.

Carter reports that at least NBC, Fox, and ABC are looking at a full-year-type schedule for their programming, which would cut down on the amount of reruns you’ll see of your favorite shows – in other words, get rid of the lower ratings for second/third run shows, and keep something fresh on the air in the same timeslot during the rest of the year. I’m curious how the summertime would fall into this, as traditionally there aren’t a ton of new programs that are pushed heavily, because of the nice weather and people being out of their homes much more often. But I say, think about it this way – if you can’t beat the TiVo-ers who are cutting and pasting their own schedules together, then join them – get them to watch your stuff all year long by putting things on in the summertime – they’ll record and watch later. And cutting down on the lack of reruns during a season creates the market for more DVD sales of seasons of various television programs.

The only issue with that is a doozy – the advertising. Will television move towards “pop up” advertising in the corner of their screens like on TBS, or commercial segments before and after the program, like what Ford did with the first episode of “24” this season, bringing it to you “commercial free”? While it’s not an ideal model, it could happen. There is surely a solution out there, and anything from more product placement to concentrating on traditional (newspaper/magazine) or nontraditional (sponsoring the coffee cups at your corner coffee shop) marketing could be it.

So be on the lookout for your new favorite show to not start its season in September – you might be watching in June.

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