Networks Should Do New Kind of Pilot Shopping This Year

Right now, the broadcast networks are announcing orders for pilot episodes, the pivotal step that leads to a new comedy or drama making it to the fall schedule. Even people who don’t watch much TV know the importance of that for program producers. Most shows, however, fail, nearly immediately.

This fall, there is one huge difference. By the time the new season begins, Nielsen will be reporting viewership by mobile and tablet devices. And while that may not seem to be a big thing -- Nielsen says only 6% of all viewership is not measured now -- the fact seems to be that a lot of viewership is being done on mobile devices, and most of it by younger demos.

It would seem probable that more than ever before, broadcast and cable networks this year will be looking for programming with characteristics that make its schedule appeal to younger viewers (no changes there) and mobile viewers (some kind of changes there).

Because now, those audiences will be measured. By Nielsen. And advertisers, while they may swear at Nielsen, also more or less swear by it, too.



It’s possible traditional content providers -- that is, broadcast and cable networks -- might be stunned to discover the mobile audience is far larger than they believe. It might be that we will be, too.

In October, YouTube reported 40% of its total traffic now comes via mobile, up from 25% in 2012 and 6% in 2011.  

That seems to me to be a trend.

But it would seem nutty to suppose that in the face of those kinds of numbers, large content providers with the wherewithal to do so won’t begin branching out to start creating new, specific programming that works for mobile -- and mobile advertisers -- best of all.  

It makes sense that “Big Bang Theory” can add a substantial number of viewers when Nielsen folds in all the ways people see it, including mobile. But it would be even more logical for those large program producers to use this pilot season to look around for smaller ideas that can be turned into the kind of quick-to-make/easy-to-whack pieces of content that appeal to mobile viewers and advertisers.

When the Nielsen ratings field becomes clearer and broader in 2014, it’s likely the big players are going to find out how many millions of viewers they’re losing to the relatively smaller AOLs of the world. And then they’ll do something about it.

There are quite a few well-known number crunchers out there who think the networks should be using the Internet much more aggressively as a wholly separate programming “channel,” the way FX is totally distinct from Fox in the cable and broadcast fields. I’ll bet that during this pilot hunting season, they're not the only persons thinking that way, either.

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