Scripted Cable Going Long: Good News For Advertisers, Viewers And Storytelling
This season, FX has let about five episodes of its heavily viewed "Sons of Anarchy" series run up to a half hour longer than their usual 60-minute lengths, according to Variety.
But in the modern cable TV world, this is not a pure-viewing formula because --accounting for national and local commercials and promos -- viewers see much less program content.
Cable networks schedule anywhere from 14 to 16 minutes of non-program time per hour, as well as varying amounts of local ad and promo time. What remains is around 42 to 44 minutes of content for a typical hour-long drama. Throwing in another half-hour of total time adds roughly another 20 minutes of program content and eight to nine minutes of national advertising time.
With the extra minutes, FX might be looking to equate "Anarchy" with the deep storytelling of somewhat bigger ad-free pay TV efforts, like HBO's "Boardwalk Empire" and Showtime's "Homeland,” which have a net 60 minutes or so of program content.
This represents more value for FX viewers – and, in theory, for marketers. Typically cable advertisers pay a package deal for original dramas; they get the a premiere of a big show, and anywhere from two to four repeats of the episode the first day and in the days that follow.
For many networks, this would seem to upset the fragile TV business ecosystem, where for many average-viewed shows, business margins can be narrow. Still, FX isn't complaining. It says the longer shows get higher license fees, and just some added post-production costs.
Is this something advertisers want? Absolutely. For many TV marketers, all the new higher-rated original programming on prime time can be a good substitute for missing ratings points on broadcast networks.
The problem: There aren’t enough ratings points to go around. Instead cable networks rely on many reruns -- both of their own original shows and of acquired broadcast network shows -- to fill out their schedules.
One other positive: Longer shows give some ad-supported cable networks a key differentiater, versus more rigorously scheduled broadcast network prime-time dramas.