Saturday, April 19, 2014

CBS Made a Bold Move for the 2014-2015 Season, Here's One Suggestion Each for the Other Networks

With upfronts just a little more than a month away, the major broadcast networks are either scrambling (ABC, NBC, Fox) or putting the finishing touches on (CBS) their 2014-2015 schedule. There are always many factors each network head considers when putting together their final slate, but one factor that seems to be controlling the sleepless nights of these executives is the simple fact that there are less viewers in broadcast primetime than ever before. At least less viewers that are watching their programs live. Yes, broadcast television has and will continue to lose viewers to cable but there will always be an audience for the shows on the "over-the-air" networks. That audience however is more and more devouring those offerings on their own time (DVR, streaming services) which is leading to decreased ratings, which in turn is leading to lower ad revenue for the broadcast nets.

So how, in an age where we are almost a 100 percent on-demand culture, do you assure those live eyeballs and delay the death of the network broadcast model? You have to be, and let me hit just hit a couple of buttons here, but you have to be bold. Bold as in programming moves that no one would see coming, but moves that also make quite a bit of sense to attracting and maintaining viewers. No network is immune to this strategy, a strategy that you've already seen put into effect in the very recent past. CBS, the number one network in primetime, bought the rights to eight Thursday night NFL games for the upcoming fall season. Keep in mind, these right are not exclusive (they will also be shown on the NFL Network) and CBS already had a great Thursday night lineup (ratings-wise, do not take this as my endorsement of the quality of programming that The Big Bang Theory is not). But they made the move because the landscape is changing, more and more by the season. With that in mind, here are four bold moves I'd suggest to the other networks to get more live eyeballs back on their networks.



1. Fox should acquire the rights to WWE Monday Night RAW. Not for one of their cable networks, but for actual Fox.

WWE on broadcast television wouldn't be a new thing, NBC famously aired "Saturday Night's Main Event" starting in the mid-1980's and it came back for a second run in the late half of the 2000's. Even Fox has aired wrestling before, picking up the rights to the show in 1992 but only airing it twice. The WWE package is up for grabs right now and Fox is a rumored partner, however with programming likely to air on one of their cable nets, be it FX or Fox Sports 1. Currently Monday Night RAW resides on USA and Smackdown is on Friday nights on Syfy, two networks a part of the NBC Universal family. They have the right to match any offer but with the guaranteed audience that Monday Night Raw delivers (it did a 1.9 adult rating on the Monday after Wrestlemania, which is more healthy than what The Following has offering in recent weeks) I think this move would be a coup for Fox. Yes, you would have to take away an hour from your network affiliates (unless they go back to a two-hour RAW starting at 8ET or put the third hour on FX or Fox Sports 1 - both options unlikely), but you acquire two more hours of live event programming which is about as DVR proof as it gets. WWE would benefit with more exposure and credibility which would lead to more eyes and more dollars to their WWE Network. Fox could use wrestler cameos on some of their primetime shows as well. If Fox wants to get really bold, they could air one of the pay-per-view events on their network per year, possibly Summerslam or maybe go for broke and air a Wrestlemania live on network TV. The more I think about this the more both unlikely and intelligent this move seems.

2. NBC should renew Parks and Recreation and Community, move them to Saturday nights at 10/9 Central.

People stay home on Saturday nights, believe me, it's true. You get to a certain age and it just happens. But while there's really no point to watching anything in primetime on Saturdays right now, SNL still draws a lot of viewers, and a lot of them are live. It's consistently the top-rated show on all of broadcast come Saturday nights, despite it's 11:30pm Eastern start time. So maybe it's time NBC gives the show a proper lead-in. Take your two critically acclaimed cult comedies that draw barely a 1.0 18-49 rating on Thursday nights and move them to Saturdays at 10 ET. If people do venture out that night, they'll DVR the show like most fans of those shows do anyway. I'd schedule NBC Saturdays like this - 

8 ET       Best of Late Night with Seth Meyers
9 ET       Best of the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon
10 ET     Parks and Recreation
1030ET  Community

Add those best of shows (weekly highlight shows in essence) to help the night flow and expose more eyes to your late-night programming (one concern would be that people would be less inclined to watch The Tonight Show or Late Night live, but I don't fear that outcome too much in this scenario). I would hold off on this schedule until January after the college football season has concluded however. Seem crazy? It is. But NBC on Saturday nights (or anyone for that matter) can't do much worse than what they are doing now.

3. ABC should take the "Agents of S.H.E.I.L.D. strategy" and apply that to their Disney connections. Also, TGIF.

The TV ratings landscape has really changed over the last decade. Let's take a look at the 9pm Eastern hour from Tuesday, April 15th. On the Tiffany network, you have NCIS:LA bringing in a monster 14.69 million people and a 2.1 rating in adults 18-49. On ABC, you have Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. bringing in nearly ten million less eyeballs but still ending up with the same 2.1 rating. Still, both networks accomplished their goal for the evening. ABC drew a strong number in the demo it cares about, while CBS attracted a lot of their normal older viewers but still did a nice job hitting that 18-49 demo. Forget about all those numbers and demos though and let me give you a different age group to care about. Kids. Specifically kids that are obsessed with the things that they like, which in turn, is actually most kids. When you're young and you like something, you go all out, and I'd like to see ABC capitalize on that fact.

With Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, ABC took the most popular movie franchise and turned it into a television show. Knowing you're not going to get Robert Downey Jr. to play the Iron Man on TV, they instead took secondary characters from The Avengers franchise and worked it into a show. Perhaps the ratings haven't been as boffo as the network may have optimistically hoped for, but I'm telling you, a 2.1 18-49 number is a number that any network will take on any night at any time (and if you somehow not only found this article and are still reading it, you know that is the case as well). What I'm suggesting for ABC is to take that strategy and apply it to their Disney library. I'm not taking airing Frozen at 7pm on Sunday as part of The Wonderful World of Disney, I'm saying take a secondary character from Frozen and build a spinoff around that. Or with any Pixar film. Get that revenue stream and bring it to your network.

Where would you program a show like this? Friday nights of course. I'm not the only one who's going to suggest that you bring back TGIF. This block of programming was loved by my generation as kids and there's no reason ABC can't try to duplicate that success. If anything, ABC should be the network airing the Girl Meets World, not the Disney channel. I bet just as many people aged 25-34 watch the follow up series to Boy Meets World as kids do.

Capitalize on nostalgia and capitalize on the addictive personalities of kids. TV success!


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