Future Viewing Potential Gives Extended Life To Under-Performing Shows

It seems that with every passing day, overnight ratings for broadcast series mean less and less. That may have been true for quite a while now, but this giant change in the evaluation of broadcast importance has in the last year become as widely accepted as it is widespread. DVR usage and VOD viewing have a lot to do with that, as do live+3 and live+7 numbers. But something I will call Future Viewing Potential is now a huge factor too.

FVP has more to do with the strength of buzz a series generates -- or its potential to generate buzz if it hasn’t already done so -- than with standard early measures of its performance. Simply put, it means that even though a show at best registers as a niche-appeal treat in its first-run -- like Fox’s “Raising Hope” and “The Mindy Project” and NBC’s “Community” and “Parks and Recreation,” to choose a few high-profile examples -- the likelihood that it will grow in popularity via streaming and bingeing once it banks a large number of episodes is high enough to warrant renewing it for several seasons.

In the “old days” such shows would have been cancelled by the spring of their freshman seasons, if not by their first November sweeps periods. But television today is all about the future -- immediate, short-term, long-term or otherwise. With so many platforms available, all series are now evaluated for their prolonged appeal (or FVP). As long as there is probable interest in them once they become available on Netflix, Amazon, Hulu or anyplace else in the growing arena of After-Prime TV, they are worth keeping around. Those services and others may become more selective in years to come, as viewers increasingly identify the types of shows they prefer to binge or otherwise stream. Right now, though, every service is hungry for exclusive product and they’re all bulking up -- and that makes almost all series more valuable than they might otherwise be, including low rated shows with strong media support.

This was the kind of aftermarket success certain broadcast series once enjoyed in syndication, especially popular sitcoms like “The Cosby Show” and “Friends.” But that business has become increasingly finicky in recent years. In most cases, selling a series into syndication is not nearly as lucrative as it once had been, though there are still a few current exceptions (as with “The Big Bang Theory”).

All of this makes media “buzz” more important than ever, as nothing builds FVP quite like sustained support from critics and bloggers, still the all-important first wave of TV tastemakers. They can keep audience and industry attention focused on a show for years, even if its ratings are not robust. Consider what they did for AMC’s “Breaking Bad,” which had ratings at the start that were so low as to invite cancellation but which was kept alive long enough to develop into one of the most successful television series of all time -- and one that will be (or at the least, should be) watched in one way or another for generations to come. Or how about NBC’s barely there family drama “Parenthood,” an absolute favorite of critics across the land? It’s one of the best soap operas on television, and as such is poised for perpetual popularity for years to come, even if it currently has to survive in the shadows cast by time-period competitors “Scandal” and “Elementary.” (Isn’t it interesting that serialized shows or those with strong serialized elements don’t perform well in syndication but are suddenly red hot on streaming sites? For years the networks and studios have been shying away from such shows because of their limited afterlife. Thanks to the rising popularity of bingeing, they are suddenly in demand as never before.)

One might suggest that CBS’ “How I Met Your Mother” should have been cancelled a season or three ago, but given its sustained visibility in the press and the multimedia excitement that built in the weeks leading up to its series finale, that clearly would not have been good business. It may not become a timeless classic, but it’s not unreasonable to assume that young people (those who do not watch very much if any television in the traditional manner) will continue to find and make “HIMYM” a streaming favorite for the foreseeable future.

And so it is that as the upfront approaches and broadcast networks announce which of their shows are returning next season, there will likely be more low-rated series in the mix than ever before. That’s certainly not because they are currently propelling their respective networks to new heights of ratings glory. It's because their FVP potential suggests that they are smart investments for the future.  

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1 comment about "Future Viewing Potential Gives Extended Life To Under-Performing Shows ".
  1. Jonathan McEwan from MediaPost , April 9, 2014 at 3:52 p.m.
    Fascinating isn't it? The more non-linear the platforms get, the more linear the programming. Serialized programming lends itself to binging, as TV series become more like video novels. And with today's devices, they are consumed more and more like novels, watched in the doctor's office, during the bus ride to work, snuggled up in bed... I don't know about you, but most of my TV comes to me somewhere other than in my living room from a TV. How do you measure that?