Then I started thinking, Disney owns ESPN, but it also owns ABC. Wouldn’t it make even more sense for the superhero shows on CW to be cross-promoted with ABC’s “Marvel Agents of Shield”? For that matter, all superhero/action/sci-fi/horror shows that appear at the big San Diego International Comic Con in July should be cross-promoting one another.
A few days later, I was watching the season finale of TNT’s “The Last Ship,” and saw a promo for CBS’s new drama, “Bull.” Made sense to me. They probably have very similar audiences.
But we would never see “Bull” promoted on NBC’s “Law & Order: SVU.” That’s because the broadcast networks still seem to see themselves as their main competition. Strangely, they will take advertising from ad-supported cable networks, but not from one another.
CBS’s new medical drama, “Pure Genius,” should be promoted on “Grey’s Anatomy.” Then ABC can promote its new political drama, “Designated Survivor” on “Madam Secretary.” There are numerous other candidates for cross-promotion across all the 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.
The broadcast networks never needed or wanted to follow this model. For many years they ruled the roost, and fiercely fought only each other for every rating point. Cross-promotion was unthinkable, not only to the parent network, but to its affiliates as well.
But it’s not the 1980s or 1990s anymore. A broadcast hit on one network actually does benefit all networks. When an “Empire” takes off, people start believing in the power of broadcast television again, and it becomes a season-long press story.
There was a time when a new broadcast series was given time to build, when “Cheers” could premiere as the lowest-rated show on TV, but eventually build into one of the biggest hits in television history.
Back in the 1980s, one network was either so far ahead or so far behind that it was fairly common for networks to give a series it believed in a year or more to find an audience. In today’s more splintered video environment, with tenths of a rating point separating four or five broadcast networks, not promoting a new show to the largest group of your prime prospects simply boggles the mind.
In what other industry does a company refuse to advertise its product to the largest and most easily reachable and measurable audience?
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 TV programs.
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.
I’ve been talking about this for several years now, but unfortunately see no indications that the broadcast networks are about to change this unwritten rule that improving their ranking matters more than improving their ratings.