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).