Why Most New Broadcast Series Will Flop

The first issue of The Sternberg Report – Premium Editionclearly illustrates that there is essentially no correlation between a new TV show’s pre-season buzz and its ratings success.

What has the greatest impact on whether a new series gets that all-important viewer sampling? Before a new series debuts, on-air promotion is still the most effective way to get potential viewers.

I’ve been tilting at this windmill for several years now, and I remain astonished that the broadcast networks, at the same time that they are so concerned about declining audiences, continue to ignore their largest chunk of potential viewers. 

Namely, those watching other broadcast networks.

Cable networks long ago came to understand that the best way to grow their audience was to appeal to those who were watching similar shows on other networks.  They also understood that it didn't really hurt them much if other cable networks did the same.  If everyone gained viewers, more advertising dollars would shift from broadcast to cable, and everyone would eventually benefit.

Yet the broadcast networks still stubbornly refuse to see that the reverse is also true.  They will, strangely enough, take advertising from their real competitors – ad-supported cable networks, HBO, Showtime, and even Netflix, but not from one another. 

It is not the 1980s or 1990s anymore.  A broadcast hit on one network actually benefits all networks.  When an Empire takes off, people start believing in the power of network TV again.  Except for the very occasional cable phenomenon like The Walking Dead, there is still no other platform capable of generating the audience of a successful broadcast network show.

Why in the world wouldn’t ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox and CW all promote "Marvel Agents of Shield," "Heroes Reborn," "Supergirl," "Gotham," "The Flash," "Arrow" and DC "Legends of Tomorrow" on one another?  Or why not promote the ABC’s new "Quantico," NBC’s new "Blind Spot" and Fox’s new "Minority Report" on "The Blacklist," "NCIS "and "Criminal Minds"?  Why wouldn’t you promote CBS’ new "Code Black" on "Grey’s Anatomy"? There are numerous other examples you can easily find across the schedule.

When I first raised this issue several years ago, an anonymous network executive was actually quoted as saying "it's an ego thing."  He couldn't come up with a single valid reason not to do it. 

Putting ego aside for a moment, the broadcast networks should realize that every time networks cross-promote their products, ratings soar.  Just look at NFL Football ratings over the past few years, or the NCAA Men's College Basketball Tournament.

In what other instance does a company refuse to advertise its product to the largest and most easily measurable audience?

Let's be clear.  These aren't just random consumers the broadcast networks are choosing not to pursue.  These are the best possible prospects, who the networks know are already watching similar programming, and are at that moment at their most receptive toward receiving a message about other series.

They are viewers who are already watching and engaged with the exact type of program the networks are trying to promote to them.  I don't know how to say it more clearly.

There is absolutely no question in my mind that if the networks started cross-promoting one another's shows, new series success rates would rise dramatically, and overall broadcast ratings would stabilize (or decline less). 

7 comments about "Why Most New Broadcast Series Will Flop".
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  1. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics, September 22, 2015 at 9:36 a.m.

    I still recall the time about 15 years ago, when The Fox News Channe--then a distant hind runner in the ratings --- and CNN, the cable news leader were trading promotional tune-in spots. Then, suddenly, Fox tilted hard right, revamped its anchors, added lots of good looking ladies and began to capture thousands of CNN viewers. Yet, day after day and night after night, the Fox spots ran on CNN , inducung still more defections----until the contract expired and CNN stopped helping Fox capture more of its remaining viewers. By then, it was too late.

  2. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics, September 22, 2015 at 9:50 a.m.

    As an add-on to my previous comment, I seem to recall studies of the reponse to network tune-in ads that showed that the best results were obtained by airing them on your own channel rather than competing channels. I wonder if this still holds true?

  3. Darrin Stephens from McMann & Tate, September 22, 2015 at 11:26 a.m.

    I think the spots that FOX News placed on CNN back then were purchased locally, particularly in New York City. Rupert and Ted were having an enormous feud back then, so FOX decided to tweak Turner by buying local avails on CNN. I don't recall CNN doing the reverse "favor, " but it sounds typical.

  4. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics, September 22, 2015 at 11:35 a.m.

    Could be, Darrin. I am fairly sure, that I saw CNN ads on Fox at the same time, hence my assumption that they were trading promos.

  5. Steve Sternberg from The Sternberg Report, September 22, 2015 at 12:17 p.m.

    Hi Ed- That was back when FOX News couldn't get on in NY and most agencies woudn't buy it for that reason.  And I also don't recall the reverse being true. And any, today's video world is quite different. There is no doubt that cable shows like The Last Ship, would never have gotten decent sampling without ads on other nets.  Also, many of the viewers watching a broeadcast net in the summer, when promos begin, ar not the same folks watching that network in the fall (except CBS and CW).

  6. ida tarbell from s-t broadcasting, September 22, 2015 at 3:36 p.m.

    Broadcast television is a joke.  How are you going to see a promo of any kind if you haven't looked at Big Four prime time in years?  The newspapers pretended not to notice how bad the shows were getting after the so-called golden fifties, having been bought off by tons of network advertising that continues to buy silence on the question of network programming.  I've looked at nothing regularly since Seinfeld.  The Public is struggling to make the point that it is the program and its seriousness and production values that count, not how cheaply an advertising message can be delivered.

  7. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, October 11, 2015 at 3:41 p.m.

    When I worked at a local agency, one of the propriators always used to want have station promos on other stations. He didn't understand why thy didn't. That was in the 70's. What's new under the sun ?

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