'Wonky' TV Math: Building A Smaller-Audience Show-- By Design

Seems you can’t go anywhere these days without any media seller or buyer talking about “scale.” But is bigger always better, or important, for overall sustainability?

Talk about your targeting and your segmentation -- and then listen to Ted Sarandos, chief content officer of Netflix: It isn’t always about creating TV shows with scale.  

During the Television Critics Association meeting, he talked about “building” Netflix TV shows for different level of audiences -- some totaling two million, others, 20 million.

Do traditional TV networks look at programs in the same way?  Perhaps a CBS, ABC, NBC, Fox, or TV might think, “We have this drama that’ll play on Fridays and perhaps pull in four million viewers initially. That’ll work fine.”

Much in the same way, Frank Cicha, senior vp of programming at the Fox Television Stations, said he believes new daytime syndication shows can be viable if they get at least a Nielsen 1.0 local TV rating in the 25-54 demographic. Does that send a signal that first-run TV syndicators needs to address?



All to say that TV producers have a bottom line -- a reality line -- of financial sustainability of TV shows. TV marketers probably care less about this stuff than a decade or two ago, especially now in focusing on data around mercurial audiences/consumers -- not the data of a TV show.  

Now, you have to wonder about Netflix, in a non-linear world. If that two million viewer series (an “Arrested Development” revival episode perhaps?) attracts four million or six million viewers, does that mean Netflix is offering high fives all around --- or are they scratching their collective heads about why its “predictive” metrics were so wrong?

But wait. John Landgraf, chairman of FX Networks, also speaking at the TCA, said, “Content creation is in an economic bubble.”

He added:  "There's something a little wonky, and if you really dug under the economics of every business making scripted television shows and every show itself, they wouldn't all be profitable. There are more shows being made than can be sustained economically."

Netflix says it has the answers. But how? Does this center around the financial sustainability of its $8.99 month from subscribers?

Maybe the science of estimating any metric of a TV show will always have wonky factors to consider.

2 comments about " 'Wonky' TV Math: Building A Smaller-Audience Show-- By Design".
Check to receive email when comments are posted.
  1. Douglas Ferguson from College of Charleston, January 19, 2016 at 5:22 p.m.

    The amount of criticism Netflix receives from old media is sufficient testimony to the perceived threat of new media. Wall Street certainly knows a winner and can readily recognize the cracks in the broadcast/cable model.

  2. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, January 20, 2016 at 7:53 a.m.

    Wayne, a couple of points. First, regarding syndication, getting a 1% rating among 25-54s is a perfectly legitimate yardstick for judging success or failure in this rating fragmented world. The network's late night talk-variety shows---Colbert, Fallon and Kimmel---struggle to attain the same rating level among 25-54s ---and often fail ----yet nobody is questionning their sustainability and there is no "message" to ponder. Second, it's all very well for Netflix to claim that it is singling out specific subsets of its subscriber base and has no problem at all if many of its shows aren't viewed by a lot of people. However, I doubt that Netflix deliberately sets out to minimize the appeal of any of its content. Moreover, if Netflix was in the ad selling business, it might think quite differently about this.

Next story loading loading..