Monday, April 14, 2014

Everyone Wants To Be A TV Network

If only it were so easy to pick great TV show, all the networks would be winners.  NBC would never had lost its dominance with "Must See TV" on Thursday nights and shows like "Hello Larry" would have never made it on the air.  But the process of selecting scripts to become TV pilots and pilots to be picked up for series is much more a matter of art than science.  And unfortunately, most TV shows that I like and want to watch seem to quickly be cancelled. 

Competition for programming has increased and so has the number of outlets.  When it was just broadcast, only a limited number of shows could actually find time slots; with the rise of cable TV, number of  slots have increased and the audience started to fragment.  But it also allowed some edgier programming to slip through and find a significant audience.  Shows like HBO's "The Sopranos" and AMC's "Breaking Bad"  were discovered and loved.  But with the size of the pot, or number of cable networks ever growing, audience size per network kept fragmenting.  Some networks have grown their ratings, many have not.  And broadcast continues to see eroding share. 

The savior for some programming has been technology.  From DVDs to DVRs to on-demand, viewers could watch shows whenever they wanted.  Two shows competing in the same time slot meant little when both could be seen hours or days later.  And now with the growth of streaming media, viewers can catch up with subscriptions to Hulu or Netflix. 

Not being content with licensing previously created shows, streaming media has now entered the original content game.  Netflix has found success with "House of Cards" and Amazon with shows like "Alpha House".  Today we learn that Yahoo also wants to enter the picture with long form TV content.  But with more platforms to choose from, the audience continues to fragment further. Capturing a meaningful audience size gets more and more difficult. 

The winner in all this is the viewer who now can choose from almost an infinite number of choices.  The challenge is in discovering which of the long form content is worth spending time with and which to ignore.  Where to find it and how to retrieve it become our goals; discoverability and search.  And how can you identify which shows are good and which are dogs?  With a couple of networks airing linear programming, measurement was easier to achieve.  Now it may be harder to compare, broadcast vs cable vs on demand vs streaming.  An ever increasing number of networks and platforms offering an ever increasing amount of original TV shows to an audience trying to find the best stuff.

Which brings me back to picking the best content to create.  As broadcasters have been well aware, it is not easy to pick the winners.  HBO could have picked "Mad Men" but declined it; AMC thought differently.  Making such decisions is a bit of an art and some luck.  And as the article in today's NY Times suggests, its a gamble.  But Yahoo smells advertising dollars from streaming long form content.  And if they pick right, they see financial rewards.  That is, if the audience can discover it, like it, and want to keep watching it.  Ask the broadcast and cable networks, it isn't easy.

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