Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Is network scheduling still important?

Here’s one of those Friday Questions that became a whole post since I’m long-winded. If you’re strapped for time, the short answer is “yes.”

The question is from Michael.

NBC is giving up on scheduling comedies on Thursdays beginning early next year. Do you think it matters anymore when shows are scheduled? What percentage of non-sports shows do you watch in real-time vs time-shifted via dvr, on-demand, or streaming services?

Like I said, yes. Time slots still matter. I talked to a network program scheduler who said at least 50% of the audience still watches in real time.

Just because you can DVR a show doesn’t mean you will. You need to know about it first. You probably need to sample it first, and broadcasting still delivers the biggest opportunity. NBC put A TO Z and ABC put SELFIE on line weeks before their network premiers and both shows are now gone. Previewing shows on line is not a substitute for good time slots or following established hits.

The subsidiary value of monster hit shows is that networks can use them to launch new programs. So they have value beyond just the enviable numbers they receive.

A key factor for new shows is how much they retain the audience from the shows they follow. Drop 50% off THE BIG BANG THEORY and you’re gone. DVR and On Demand bonus viewers won’t help unless they’re spectacular numbers. America has voted.

And as long as networks base their expectations on their time slots the system will continue. In other words, CRISTELA is on Friday, which is a low viewing day. A number CRISTELA might get on Friday is acceptable. If it was on after MODERN FAMILY and got that same number it would be cancelled. I’m sure Netflix could care less what time of day and which day you watch a particular show. ABC does.

That said, networks are expanding into more streaming alternatives because it’s clear the handwriting is on the wall. In ten years (or even five) the percentage of people who watch network television in real time will drop significantly. It’s coming. Everybody knows that. New models will be needed and they better be in place. Networks are already behind the curve because they clung to the old methods for so long. But for the moment, scheduling still is how networks launch new shows and perpetuate programming.

And it’s also why networks pay such big bucks for sports like the NFL. Most viewers watch sports in real time. And they can’t skip the commercials. Sports also bring new viewers who wouldn’t ordinarily watch that network. So their promos for new shows get introduced to new eyes.

The network scheduler I talked to also told me a surprising thing. Most of the people who DVR shows still watch the commercials. I don’t know why. I zap through ‘em.

As for me, I’m one of those DVR people. But there are certain shows I really love and will watch them the night they’re on. THE GOOD WIFE is one. MAD MEN is another. Water cooler shows still draw large same-day viewers. THE WALKING DEAD and THE VOICE are two examples. Beyond that, for me, I couldn’t even tell you what night COVERT AFFAIRS is on. It just shows up on my menu.

42 comments:

Michael said...

Ken - thanks for answering the question. By the way, COVERT AFFAIRS won't show up for much longer - it was cancelled last week.

MikeK.Pa. said...

From no less an authority than scheduling guru Preston Beckman, who helped NBC's prime-time ascent and dominance through his skillful maneuvering of MUST SEE TV on Thursdays and is now chief strategist for all Fox networks. "The majority of people still watch TV live. Scheduling still matters."

Mason said...

Hardcastle and McCormick! Three's a Crowd! Thank you, Ken, for reminding me of these shows. I watched every single episode of Three's a Crowd. Not a great show, but thinking about it makes me miss John Ritter that much more.

Each network had a movie night. That's so quaint. Ah, the old days.

Carol said...

My husband and I were talking about this - well something similar to this - the other day. Back when we were kids, in the dark ages of the 1970's, if you missed a show, you missed it. If you were lucky you'd catch the summer rerun. So if there was a show you liked, you made sure you were available to watch it.

I remember watching Little House on the Prairie faithfully every week - Monday, I think. (I also used to watch the Monkees every day at 5pm on the UHF channel, but that's probably not quite the same thing.)

My son has no idea what it means to miss a show or a movie - didn't see it in the theatre? Get the DVD. Missed a show? Even withouth DVR you could probably on Hulu or 'On Demand'. (Or downloadable somewhere but I wouldn't do that because It Would Be Wrong.)

When my son was younger he complained about how it was unfair the DVR could only record two shows at once. We laughed at him.

Hamid said...

Woody Allen is doing TV! Breaking news today:

Amazon has signed up Woody Allen for his first TV project. The company said it had signed up the Annie Hall and Blue Jasmine director to make a series for Prime. He'll write and direct a series of half-hour episodes. Allen was quoted saying: "I don't know how I got into this. I have no ideas and I'm not sure where to begin."

willieb said...

The future of TV is our children...and they have no clue as to the how and why of scheduling. My 3-year old granddaughter has been raised on Netflix and Amazon and Hulu Plus, and when she wants to see a show, she expects the TV to deliver it NOW. For example: attending a recent family wedding, we stayed in a hotel. She wanted to see "Blue's Clues" and her dad tried to explain to her that it wasn't on the hotel TV, that she had to watch what the channel programmed. Tears ensued.

Rick Wiedmayer said...

Most viewers watch sports in real time. And they can’t skip the commercials.

But the mute button still works miracles.

Gloria said...

When I was in high school my best friend and I were hooked on "Soap" and if one of us missed it we would spend homeroom writing a recap for the other.

Now I have the entire series on DVD. I feel old.

The Bumble Bee Pendant said...

My wife and I are more likely to try out a show when it's on "live" then DVRing it and trying it out.

If we stumble across it and like it then we will go ondemand and see if we can find earlier episodes.

Of course, when we go ondemand usually there is no faster forwarding through commercials.
At that point the Network wins.

Unfortunately, we are usually LATE to the "party" and the show is getting cancelled. lol

Curt Alliaume said...

It's possible NBC and ABC had the right idea by putting A to Z and Selfie on line, but it didn't work in these cases. IMHO, A to Z was good (at least the pilot was), but romantic sitcoms where the romance is the basis for the "sit" don't seem to work. (The time slot, Thursdays at 9:30 opposite football and ABC's dramas and after Really Bad Judge, probably didn't help.) Previewing Selfie just proved it was a lousy show.

Breadbaker said...

I have no idea what time The Good Wife is on. I've only seen it streaming on Amazon. Which has worked great for me, because I could see the arcs for the seasons without having to wait a week for the next episode. And even being (SPOILER ALERT!) spoiled for Will's death, I didn't know the name of the episode where he died, and it was still a surprise (even though I was anticipating it was around the time it happened).

Scooter Schechtman said...

My schedule tells me "Banacek" is on MeTV tonight, the one with Joanna Pettet's belly button. I don't know what these retro channels are doing but I like it.

Barbara C. said...

I have 5 children under 12. Without the DVR I would NEVER get to watch a show in its entirety. The fact that I can skip through commercials is a time and life saver.

I could see where scheduling could still be important, too, in terms of how the DVR often records up to five minutes of the next show. So the network has 5 minutes to make a good impression.

MikeN said...

When he says people who DVR still watch commercials, may be getting conflating Comcast OnDemand which frequently does not let you fast forward.

While perhaps 'the handwriting is on the wall', this is only for people who are not willing to pay $100 a month for cable. For people who never were willing to pay $50 a month for cable, then the networks' scheduling is important. Antenna use is still very large. This is why the broadcast news shows get higher ratings than CNN.
Given that they are now broadcasting in HD, it is a good deal for people with cable as well, since comcast charges an extra $10 a month just to get HD.

All that is needed is a good DVR box to go with the antenna.

404 said...

We cut the chord a while ago, and with the exception of live sports, I don't miss a single thing. I only know which night some shows air because they show up in my queue the next day. There are a handful of shows we can't get through Netflix or Hulu, and that's what Amazon is for. A couple of bucks per episode the next day is still so much cheaper than what we were paying for DirectTV.

It's funny to me, though, how many people use Hulu plus and complain about the commercials. "What, I pay 8 bucks a month and I still have to watch commercials?" Meanwhile, this person is paying over a hundred bucks for cable, sits through commercials, pays for scores of channels that he/she will never watch, and doesn't bat an eye.

Roseann said...

I NEVER watch shows in real time. I DVR everything and zap the commercials. Otherwise how could I get out to see Five Presidents at ATC?

Bryan L said...

I'm with Roseann. I DVR everything and zap through the commercials. On the rare occasion I watch live, I sit there punching the fast forward button at every commercial break. I'm Pavlov's viewer. But I also can compress the vast majority of my network TV viewing, and save myself hours of time per week.

If it's a "water cooler" show or I'm worried about spoilers (which I don't care about), I watch it the next morning at 5 am when I'm exercising.

BetterYeti said...

I was a TiVo early adopter well over ten years ago and, like Ken, the only live, appointment viewing for me are the water cooler shows. (Even NFL games I record and start watching about an hour in; there's so much filler I usually see the very end in real time).

Anyway, I find I am much, much less like to buzz through commercials than I used to. The difference from when I got my first DVR: twitter, imessage, etc. My hands are otherwise occupied and not with the remote.

Mike Schryver said...

"Just because you can DVR a show doesn’t mean you will. You need to know about it first."

This is where Tivo comes in. I only have OTA, and there's so little I'm interested in, that Tivo comes in very handy. It records most things I might be somewhat interested in, and I don't have to know about them befoehand.

Glenn said...

Neil Simon’s Barefoot in the Park is on Turner Classics Movie tonight. Whether it’s live or on your DVR, here’s hoping that Ken was able to find his way onto the Robert Osborne set and seize the introduction controls. And maybe Ken can even find out how come Robert gets the cozy furnishings and decorative fireplace, while Ken’s intros appear to take place inside an empty box of Q-tips. Its TCM Smackdown night – Osborne versus Levine – be there!

Jim said...

I missed seeing the final episode in the 70's and it took me over thirty-five years (and the invention of You Tube) to learn that the denounement really was as crap as my schoolfriends had told me.

Anonymous said...

Hey Ken,

I guess I'm in the middle of these responses. I watch plenty of "live" TV but it's mostly sports. The only shows I watch are The Americans, Mad Men, GoT, Walking Dead, the rest are on DVR. Especially 30 min comedies - you can buzz thru those in 22 mins.

I do know people who never watch live TV. Everything is DVR or streamed/Netflix/Apple TV

And lastly- who are these people that watch commercials on DVR??? Crazy!!! --LL

Stephen Robinson said...

CAROL: Your post reminded me of a similar conversation with my wife. The biggest source of family squabbles when we were kids was over what show would be watched. Even when you had a VCR, you could only record *one* series if you were away. Choices must be made. Brothers and sisters -- who epitomized "counter programming" -- fought especially fiercely over this.

But now... heck, brother and sister probably each has their own iPhone or iPad and if not, there's probably more than one... more than two! ... TVs in the house.

I'm only 40 yet when I think back on what TV was like growing up, it seems a seismic shift.

mark said...

A hint for watching a 1 hour show almost live and still zip through the commercials.
1. Set your DVR to record the show.
2. 15 minutes after the show starts, start watching the recorded show (it's continuing to record ahead of you).
3. Zap through commercials as you go.
4. You'll catch up or almost catch up to the live show by the end of the hour.

Les said...

When I read about the Woody Allen announcement I immediately had this vision of Woody Allen writing a television show that has all the plots, jokes, and sensibilities from the 1950's - probably the last time he watched a television show. This could be the greatest experiment ever - sort of like the premise for the movie "Blast from the Past" except with a tv comedy writer.

Amazon announcer: "And you don't want to miss the next episode when Doody Fallon thinks his wife is having an affair because his telephone land line gets crossed with his neighbors...

Doody: 'Morty, I have to sleep with my wife, but you?'"

Canned laughter, applause, cut to Folger's Coffee product placement, followed the next day with bloggers praising Woody Allen as a genius.




Darrell said...

One network (or station or channel or whatever the hell it is) that I don't watch is MeTV, even though they run some programs I like. Mainly, I hate the way the shows they run are hacked down to about 20 minutes. When MASH and CHEERS and other great shows are available uncut on DVD, why in the world would I want to watch them butchered and chopped up?

Second, and admittedly a more minor point, sponsorship seems to run heavily toward law firms running a steady stream of ads with very earnest announcers asking, "Did taking this medication make your ass itchy and uncomfortable? If so, you may be entitled to billions of dollars in compensation." Which makes me wonder who the hell MeTV's primary audience is.

TLB said...

I DVR all sports I want to watch. For Football, I set the DVR and start watching about 1:15 later. It takes just about 2 hrs to get thru an NFL game. Last night's Championship game took a little over 3 hrs, somehow ESPN always takes longer. Not only do I cut out commercials, but also the babbling sideline broads, booth shots, and everything else that's not part of the action. Most people I know do the same. The games are way to long - too many commercials, penalties, time outs and reviews.

Cap'n Bob said...

Couldn't care less. The phrase is couldn't care less. Hmmpf!

D. McEwan said...

I DVR everything I watch. I no longer watch anything live, except on rare occasions, breaking news reports. Zapping through commercials being a large part of it. So if it's a show I want to see right away, I'll start watching after the amount of time commercials would take have past, 15 minutes per hour. Of course, I don't watch sports, so that's not a factor. My "Sports" would be the Oscars, and even that I wait an hour before starting to watch the DVR, because award show commercials are just as boring as any others. So, I've got this week's Revenge writing as I write this.

" Darrell said...
One network (or station or channel or whatever the hell it is) that I don't watch is MeTV, even though they run some programs I like. Mainly, I hate the way the shows they run are hacked down to about 20 minutes. When MASH and CHEERS and other great shows are available uncut on DVD, why in the world would I want to watch them butchered and chopped up?"


Because you don't have the DVDs? If it's a series I have on DVD, I won't watch broadcasts of it, but I don't have the Burns & Allen or Jack Benny shows that they run. I'm not going to spend the large chunk of change the DVDs of Dobie Gillis cost when I can see them on ME TV for no additional cost. So, while I could buy DVDs of The Abbott & Costello Show, right now one or two a day are arriving via METV without my buying them.

D. McEwan said...

Obviously, I have this week's Revenge running, not writing, as I write this, which may be why my proof-reading is so lousy.

Jeff said...

I don't watch MeTV because our local affiliate pads commercial breaks with extra local ads (extra ads on top of the commercial time they're allowed) that cause us to lose a minute or so of program. Our affiliate just cuts back to the show whenever they get through running however many ads they have to run, and if the end of a show gets cut off or you miss a couple of extra minutes of the show--sorry. I've complained at a local level, to massive disinterest, and to MeTV itself, who basically told me, "Yes, we know what they're doing, and no, they're not supposed to be doing that, but we don't want to make them mad and risk losing an affiliate."

Losing viewers seems to concern them less.

Chris said...

Friday questin: a holiday episode of Malcom in the Middle just split from two stories to three halfway through. Never seen it done in half hour comedy before. Have you done something like this?

Albert Giesbrecht said...

It's ironic that the programmer said that people still watch sports real time. When television first started in NBC, in the 40's, the only thing on that people watched was...sports.

Albert Giesbrecht said...

That should be NYC...Freudian slip!

Thomas Mossman said...

What the heck, I'd watch it.

Barry Traylor said...

I time shift all the time, but my wife wants to watch in real time as the commercials don't bother her in the least. I began doing it for two reasons. 1. If two shows I like are on at the same time and 2. if TCM has a movie I want to see on at 3:00 am. But I have to agree with you that scheduling is still important.

Anonymous said...

METV airs MASH uncut, but don't let facts get in your way.

VP81955 said...

Barry, I've been on the Coast for six months now and I'm still finding it hard to get used to the TCM program cycle beginning at 3 a.m. PT, not to mention the prime-time segment opening at 5 p.m. OTOH, it's good to watch "Silent Sunday Nights" at 9 p.m.

Regarding programming, there are some shows whose overwhelming popularlty is inexplicable to me -- "Friends" was one (I've always attributed it to TimeWarner corporate log-rolling with its magazines, not any inherent quality on its part), and now it's "The Big Bang Theory." The few episodes I've seen have the broadest sort of nerd humor and annoying, stereotyped characters. I shouldn't care, except that this 800-pound sitcom gorilla indirectly controls the future of a series I do care about, "Mom."

Next month, CBS is moving "Mom" from 8:30/7:30c Thursdays, where it follows new "BBT" episodes, to 9:30/8:30c, where it will follow "BBT" reruns. If it wasn't also part of the Chuck Lorre stable with his huge influence at the network, I fear lackluster "BBT" followup ratings might relegate "Mom" to the Friday night programming ghetto...or worse, despite the raves it's received from most critics.

Jason said...

I DVR everything, and even shows I watch when they're on, I really watch like 15 minutes AFTER they're on, via the DVR (to skip the commercials). So I still have no idea what's on after what unless the DVR stars a minute early and picks up the final hilarious minute of New Girl or something.

James Lamb said...

The only thing we watch live are the L.A. car chases but that's online because we're in a Seattle (but we have a great friend who lets us know when they're on).

James Lamb said...

P.S. that graphic at the top is a blast from the past - my first job out of college in 1996 was making schedules like that for a fledgling website covering the TV scene. Ah the good ol' days.

Barbara said...

As someone who can pull up shows that are recorded but doesn't skip through the commercials, I can tell you that I don't skip the commercials because I never remember to ask someone to show me how to do it using my baffling 50-key remote control. I never learned to use remotes as they developed because my late husband monopolized the remote and the tv. I never did and still don't watch much tv (I grew up where tv reception was limited, when there was reception), but a lot of the time commercials are on I just do something else -- put laundry in the dryer, rearrange some of the clutter, or go back to the magazine I'm reading. (Reading home decorating magazines while watching HGTV works well for me.) Bottom line -- I'm not watching the commercials, even if they're being shown.