If you listen to the TV and advertising industries' pundits, appointment TV is over. There are a few event TV opportunities each year - the Super Bowl, the Oscars, the Grammys, maybe the MTV Music Awards, and that's it, according these pundits. Otherwise, TV is a morass of niche audiences, and most viewers aren't even watching because they're intent on texting, tweeting, and “like”ing during the episodes.
In fact, Netflix just released data that shows people stream more than they watch any cable network. And a report from BTIG Research calculates that this puts Netflix ahead of any cable channel.
The TV business – especially for the male, 18-34 demographic that many advertisers are eager to reach – traditionally has been a business of appointment TV, whether it was Archie Bunker sitting down in his recliner with his beer – or with male friends getting together to watch football, baseball or basketball games.
Certainly, large-scale mass audience, appointment TV events are few and far between - we noted the most-cited examples above. If you try to DVR the Super Bowl or Oscars and watch it a day or two or three later, the entire experience is going to be ruined for you. If you're a casual media observer, you will know within minutes or a few hours, the winners of the Super Bowl or the Oscars, and the allure of time-shifting TV will be lost.
Yet, there are several examples of what we'd describe as water cooler TV that are thriving and growing their audience. “A Game of Thrones,” “Mad Men,” and “The Walking Dead” are now part of the cultural zeitgeist of the 2010s just as much - if not more so - than “Seinfield” and “Friends” were during the height of NBC's Must-See-TV era.
The difference today vs. then, of course, is that audiences can DVR their shows and time shift, and with some deft maneuvering or a day or two “Facebook Fast,” they can watch “A Game of Thrones,” “Mad Men,” and “The Walking Dead” on Monday night or Tuesday night without having the episode ruined by spoilers. And, then, that viewer is ready to wade into the virtual water cooler and discuss the latest episode.
And, what's interesting is that the shows we cited have chosen different avenues to drive their respective viewing. “The Walking Dead” you can DVR or watch live on AMC.com when it airs. You can purchase episodes after they air via iTunes or Amazon.com Video. Or, you can stream the first two seasons via Netflix (or watch via DVD via Netflix), and viewers will be able to stream the third season via Netflix after a DVD release window of 60 to 90 days.
AMC has created an appointment TV/water cooler-worthy show by first having a strong, well-plotted series, but also making its content available well beyond the initial TV broadcast.
HBO, with equally strong content in a series based on the best-selling fantasy novels, has chosen a distinctly different video distribution strategy. Based on its years of building an exclusive, premiere brand, HBO has chosen a more limited distribution strategy that requires an HBO subscription. You can watch via the impressive HBO GO app on digital devices, but only if you have a current HBO subscription. Yet, “A Game of Thrones” is certainly what we'd consider a water-cooler hit. Facebook feeds are filled with “A Game of Thrones” memes, photos, and discussions.
Across the board, AMC and HBO have nourished and stoked the groundswell of social media discussions of their respective series. Not as much “Mad Men,” but the AMC and HBO publicity/marketing machines are very active in social media - using their social platforms and presence to release exclusive photos prior to a new season, release teaser trailers, release full trailers, etc.
For “The Walking Dead,” AMC has used the television platform for its show “Talking Dead,” which is driven by fan social media discussions.
Appointment TV still exists, it just looks different. It's just not a set night at a set time any longer. And, yes, the water cooler is now online - the virtual water cooler consists of Facebook, Twitter, IM, Chat and G+ discussions of plot, character and actors/actresses. It’s only natural that I, already comfortable and familiar with trash talking via social media, would turn to social media to discuss the latest episodes of “A Game of Thrones,” “Mad Men,” and “The Walking Dead.”
Now that we've established that appointment TV is alive and well, I've got to bring this to a close. I DVRed the last episode of “Survivor,” and I want to see who got voted off the island.