With 22 weekly prime-time hours needed to fill each schedule for ABC, CBS and NBC -- and 15 hours for Fox -- a continued mix of programming would seem to be necessary. But media consumption methods are changing. For example, there’s binging, digital video and other distractions.
At NBC -- the network which will win the 18-49 crown this year after a decade in the basement -- you might look to “The Voice” and “Sunday Night Football” and believe there isn’t much else. Then, of course, you can add in something like the Olympics, which can also significantly boost viewership.
Network competitors can be dismissive, viewing sports programming as a separate daypart because many advertisers look at it that way. Fox will come in second place to NBC this year. By the way, it had the Super Bowl.
“The Voice,” which runs a couple of times a week, generally for around three hours total, represented a big chunk of NBC’s success this year. The network also got high ratings from rookie show “The Blacklist.”
Kevin Reilly, chairman of entertainment for Fox Broadcasting, noted in an upfront press call on Monday that viewership of “The Voice” has been sinking over the last several editions. A lot of attention, though, has also been paid to another high flying, multi-night, multi-hour singing show -- “American Idol” -- which continues to run on Fox, but now tallies much lower audiences.
Is there anything wrong with focusing too much in one area?
Around a decade and a half ago, ABC thought it had found gold with the game show “Who Wants to be a Millionaire,” running it almost every night of the week while severely cutting back on primetime development. That put ABC on one of the wildest trajectories of any network in recent memory as it rocketed to win the season and then went into a free fall the next year.
Networks are more careful these days, realizing they need some protection through diversification. But with broadcast ratings erosion perhaps continuing into the future, one wonders where emphasis might be placed to stop the bleeding.
Many executives -- from NBC’s Bob Greenblatt to Fox’s Kevin Reilly -- believe a lot of hay can be made from “event” or limited-series programming that can be heavily marketed to consumers.
Here’s why: Networks need viewers to keep coming back. Even short viewing spurts will remind viewers of a network’s worth, and allow them to possibly discover other shows. And that might result in a real rarity these days: a genuine big hit.