One Successful Broadcast TV Strategy: Focus On The 'Big' Nights

For broadcast TV, many think it is still about racking up “big” viewing nights. Increasingly, the definitions of “big” in this context keeps changing.

Mike Cavanagh, senior EVP/CFO of Comcast Corp., says broadcast TV is where the large viewing nights are. He says for 2016, overall, there were 61 of these “big” nights.

And for NBC -- especially in 2016 -- it was particular big: “We’ve got 70% of them,” he said in speaking at an UBS media conference recently. 

“That was Olympics, “Thursday Night [Football],” “Sunday Night Football,” Golden Globes and the like. We think that's important ... a well thought out, a well executed approach to dominating big nights,” said Cavanagh.

NBC get big boost, especially every other year,  because of the Winter and Olympic games. That amounts to 16 day/nights for each Olympics. Now, adding “Thursday Night Football” for the first time this year for NBC, five prime-time games, adds more big viewing.



Underlying the word “big” is the word “live.” Key to the premium-priced inventory is scheduling major live events.

No mystery that in addition to big sports -- NFL and the Olympics -- for the last several seasons, during the big holiday periods, networks have looked to other viewing options. NBC was the first to revive the idea of live musicals.

Its most recent effort, “Hairspray” did some sturdy -- but not great -- viewership numbers, some 9 million overall viewers. This has been trending down since 2013, when NBC first aired “Sound of Music: Live.” Earlier this year, Fox’s “Grease: Live” got 12.2 million viewers.

Still, some positives for NBC with “Hairspray”: It yielded a decent Nielsen 2.1 rating among young 18-34 TV viewers.

Live events -- sports, musicals or whatever -- can lure premium prices from advertisers because TV viewers are watching TV commercials in real time, not time-shifted. This year for “Hairspray,” NBC aired actual “live,” not taped, commercials.

For many, the ongoing question will be: How do we define big TV programming? Even TV networks “biggest” programming, the NFL, witnessed early-season TV rating double-digit percentage declines, though now recovering somewhat.

Think ahead. Will the 9 million total "Hairspray" viewer count seem impressive five or seven years from now?

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