TV used to be about big events, particularly original movies. Now, you need to know where to find those made-for-TV films.
HBO's highly touted "Game Change" -- a profile about the ascension of Sarah Palin and her vice presidential run four years ago -- pulled in 2.1 million viewers for its recent initial outing. “Game Change” was HBO’s most-viewed movie in eight years. With three subsequent airings, HBO has pulled in a total of 3.6 million viewers.
If you don’t think that is a lot, you’d probably be right. For the most part, the broadcast networks don’t do movies anymore. Big stars and big current theme ideas are always good to pull viewers, but movies don't seem to have much staying power for networks -- broadcast or cable -- to rally around these days. For a $2 million to $3 million production budget, a network can produce a keen-looking pilot for a series which, if it works, can generate a lot more money.
No matter. HBO still works in this field, but at much higher production values and costs. This works well with the special limited-nature feel the network gives to its series, one-time music and comedy events.
Do original movies have a place on future video services? Are they something subscription video-on-demand businesses like Netflix should pursue? Maybe. But they will need a lot of marketing punch.
Take the case of ABC, which took over the Hallmark Hall of Fame franchise this season but didn’t do much with its first effort, “Mitch Albom’s Have A Little Faith.” It pulled in 6.5 million viewers during the big Thanksgiving period, about half the 13.5 million viewers CBS got with Hallmark’s “November Christmas” a year earlier.
Basic cable? Disney Channel has done a number of teen-oriented movies, like its “High School Musical” franchise, with great results. In 2007, “High School Musical 2” pulled in a whopping 17.2 million viewers.
Earlier this year, Disney’s “Radio Rebel” garnered 4.3 million viewers. Hallmark Channel regularly airs original movies. "A Taste of Romance" pulled in 2.6 million unduplicated viewers on a mid-January Saturday night.
When broadcast networks do run movies, they are mostly theatrical. In that regard, they yield a much lower profile – though at a lower cost.
HBO precedes the airing of its special original movies with lots of publicity, buzz and critical reviews -- along with paid marketing efforts. This is kind of like what The Weinstein Co. does with cool and small independent movies, like the recent Oscar-winning "The Artist."
TV networks, like big wide-release theatrical movies, are in the business of wide-appealing entertainment. All of that needs a heavy amount of publicity and big paid marketing awareness (or at least promotional media exposure via a TV network’s own airwaves).
And there's the rub. So don’t expect many original movies to come your way on the broadcast networks anytime soon.