TV News As Fiction: Gauging Viewer Interest In The Process And The Boring Facts
We want our TV news shows and newsroom personnel to pursue the facts, the truth -- and maybe be a little smart as well. HBO's new "The Newsroom" does feed into this premise.
Critics have already moaned that the creator of the series, Aaron Sorkin, who also created "West Wing," and wrote the movies "Social Network" and "Moneyball," has left some telltale signs of his work: the speechy, preachy, diatribes; the fast-talking quick wits; and the moral high ground.
The good ratings for the show premiere -- two point one million viewers -- might convince you that most U.S. television viewers would want our news this way. But it isn't always about newsrooms; the show also has what prime-time entertainment should: good writing, dramatic story lines, and provocative after-thoughts.
Sorkin's usual brand of entertainment may not fit the big broadcast networks anymore -- just as Larry David's "Curb Your Enthusiasm" doesn’t (as opposed to his "Seinfeld" days) Thus HBO (and Showtime for that matter) seems a good spot for your niche crowds. By way of comparison to "Newsroom”’s ratings, earnest newshounds have given Fox News an average of 1.8 million viewers in prime time during the second quarter 2012; with MSNBC at 674,000 viewers and CNN, a fast-sinking 448,000.
What can marketers learn from the show? That getting real news to real TV screens -- even for the BP Oil Spill story that gripped the nation for several months in 2010, the story that was the center of "The Newsroom"'s premiere -- is hard work. And that it’s sometimes difficult to translate mundane details for the average TV viewing public.
Those less-dramatic stories can also be difficult. Big financial manipulation stories may be too technical for most people -- though isn't that what put the U.S. and the rest of the world into a still tenuous economic state? Wondering how (and if) "Newsroom" would broach that subject.
Marketers like pharmaceutical and financial companies continue to be the big spenders on traditional advertising-supported TV news networks and/or programs. But what's the future: Wildly opinionated news wonks or calmer, straight-ahead news stories? "Newsroom" doesn't seem to look to answer these questions.
When it comes to those actual people working behind the scenes, don't always expect reporters/editors with moralistic, rapid-fire opinions about issues and politics. Sometimes it's just a job. Maybe another day that will be a storyline for "Newsroom."