Is Scheduling On Network TV Less Important? Ask NBC Affiliates

Lead-ins? Lead-outs? Scheduling? Does any of this matter any more?

To 60% of U.S. TV audience -- those without time-shifting machines - timing is still a factor. But the 40% now in control with time-shifting devices are much less concerned about whether "NCIS: Los Angeles" follows the original "NCIS."

And that 60% number may be dropping quickly -- especially in those homes that can access the likes of Hulu, Netflix, and some video-on-demand services.

Don't get me wrong. Ratings still respond to big lead-ins. When CBS has a biglate Sunday afternoon football game that spills into early evening, "60 Minutes" gets a huge boost. Fox's Sunday night lineup also gets higher ratings from a big NFL late afternoon contest.

Outgoing NBC Universal chief executive Jeff Zucker believes scheduling is less important. "We're clearly heading into a world where content will matter more than schedule," he said recently. It's more about the brand, and the content, he added. This is a big reason why he pushed so hard for that now-successful video destination Hulu.



But right now -- this second -- scheduling is very important to the likes of NBC's local late news programs. "Jay Leno" couldn't help struggling NBC affiliates last year -- and neither can NBC's return to dramas or reality shows this season. Scheduling still counts for local NBC affiliated stations because lower local ratings means lower advertising revenues. It's as simple as that.

Additionally, you can't exactly dismiss the whole concept of lead-in and lead-out programming when it comes to new shows -- even this year, where critics have complained the quality of rookie shows has been sub-par.

Give at least 50% credit to CBS's decent success with new shows "Mike & Molly" or "$#*! My Dad Says" because of scheduling. At 9:30 p.m. Monday, "M&M" has a nice "Two and a half Men" lead-in; at 8:30 p.m. Thursday, "Dad" has "The Big Bang Theory" for help.

You might not think these shows are of the same quality as "West Wing," "Frasier," "The Sopranos," or "Seinfeld." But maybe on a different network there would be another outcome. "Mike & Molly" on say, NBC, on Thursday? Or "Dad" on Fox on Tuesday?

Those shows wouldn't have nearly the same success -- because of scheduling.

Ten years from now, we might find all this talk about lead-ins and lead-out quaint. Right now it's still about the content, the brand and the schedule.

2 comments about "Is Scheduling On Network TV Less Important? Ask NBC Affiliates ".
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  1. Douglas Ferguson from College of Charleston, November 19, 2010 at 5:07 p.m.

    Your premise is based on those 60% of homes not having a remote-control device to surf around during commercials or flip around the channels. Sorry, the theory of lead-in/lead-out has been ailing for decades, unless you want to count those 6 homes without remotes. I wrote my dissertation on this in 1990, back when VCRs were used for time-shifting. It's not to say that scheduling strategies are worthless. But viewers are a lot less passive than you credit them. And that's not even taking into account the sheer number of other channels to watch on cable (and the Internet) when the good show ends and the show in the hammock position begins. Granted, we cannot "dismiss" the concept. But it's hardly worth extolling either. For the record, Mike and Molly is better written than Two and a Half Men. Quality is what really counts, not scheduling, so your 50% is just a guess. (We DVR M&M at our house and ignore the human-timebomb that is Charlie Sheen.)

  2. Jim Dennison from DigitalMediaMeasures, November 19, 2010 at 7:32 p.m.

    Where is the data that this staement is based on?
    "And that 60% number may be dropping quickly -- especially in those homes that can access the likes of Hulu, Netflix, and some video-on-demand services. "
    Maybe the Hulu-Netflix viewers are from the 40% who already timeshift. The 60% may be late adapters.
    I haven't read Douglas Ferguson's dissertaion, but the data that I've seen says there is still a lot of live TV viewed, and there is inertia that carries a viewer from one show to the next, at least for a sampling. Certainly not the strong inertia of the days of no remotes, but a lot of TV choices appear to be made from watching what is on next.

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