Do We Still Need Traditional Time-Oriented TV Schedules?

TV networks want to give us more stuff: programming content and advertising. Trouble is, much of that can spill over into irregular time segments. Now it seems one of the key consumer TV tools might be in jeopardy.

TV critics have long complained about too many commercials in shows. In many cases, this now extends the length of the entire TV show -- to a 34-minute “half-hour TV shows or a 63-minute “hour-long” shows.

This reality was highlighted in the recent holiday season -- long series/marathons/catch-up programming efforts put on by cable networks.

Todd Juenger, senior analyst of Bernstein Research, points to AMC as an example. Recently, it was running 64 minute-long episodes of “Breaking Bad”; 65-minute to 70-minute episodes on the network’s “A Walking Dead”; and on Discovery’s Science Channel, 62-minute episodes of “Mythbusters.”

Much of Juenger’s concern was the growing glut of TV commercials: MTV, for example, went 35 minutes for “Ridiculousness” and 70 minutes for “Teen Mom 2.”



For many, Viacom’s networks, such as Comedy Central, MTV, TV Land, Nick At Nite, have long been the target when it comes to commercial overload. Some Viacom networks in recent years aired five half-hour shows in a typical three-hour prime-time period (8 p.m. to 11 p.m.) when there should have been six shows.

Growing TV commercialization has been a problem for some time. Now with on-demand programming, something else is changing: a traditional TV schedule. TV shows don't need to start -- or end  -- on the hour or half-hour. With on-demand/time shifting, you watch exactly when you want. 

Decades ago, Ted Turner, looking to ramp up his nascent TBS networks, had slightly altered prime-time start times for TBS programs. The move was done to highlight those show with a separate listing in newspapers/TV consumer magazines versus programming on other networks, according to TV analysts.

For example, shows would start at 8:05 p.m., 8:35 p.m., or 9:05 p.m. It meant TBS viewers needed to continue to watch his network since they would be missing the start of a show on another channel. A controversial lead-in/lead-out scheduling technique.

Time-shifting was in its infancy then. Now 40 years later, TV consumption is much different -- especially commercial-free platforms. Go to Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon. Start times are obviously not a factor.

So apart from live TV content -- sports, news and special events, as well as the increasingly irregular start times on some cable networks -- how long are we going to need traditional linear/time sensitive TV schedules any more?

3 comments about "Do We Still Need Traditional Time-Oriented TV Schedules?".
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  1. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, January 5, 2017 at 10:04 a.m.

    Wayne, the examples you cite are fairly standard behaviour at many---but not all----cable channels, where there is less advertiser scrutiny and the "rules" are very flexible and, sometimes, rather lax. You rarely see this kind of thing on the regular program schedules of the major broadcast networks. As for the amount of ad and promotional clutter on national TV, here, as well, there is relatively little organized pressure on the networks and cable channels to hold clutter in check---despite some grumbling and pious rubber chicken luncheon circuit speeches by media department and client big wigs---followed by no action. Some time ago, the advertiser/agency side of the business used to fund an annual tally of ad-promotional clutter in various dayparts for the broadcast networks and major cable channels, as a way to monitor clutter loads and pressure the ad sellers to take it easy. However, this program was suspended, because the backers wouldn''t spend the fairly nominal amounts required to fund the operation. Now, any complaints about clutter are ad hoc affairs, with individual buyers, not the industry as a united whole, participating. Small wonder than ad clutter keeps increasing.

  2. dorothy higgins from Mediabrands WW, January 5, 2017 at 10:39 a.m.

    Interestingly, if more networks do this they will themselves nail the coffin shut in live TV as VOD becomes the reliable go-to 

  3. William Graff from beIN Media Group, January 5, 2017 at 12:07 p.m.

    From a long-time channel scheduler, a further historical note on TBS' scheduling strategy: In the earlier days of cable, the vast majority of viewing was still on the broadcast channels. Only if nothing deemed worthwhile was on, would viewers "cruise up" to channel slot in the 20's and 30's where the USA's, ESPN's and TBS's resided. By starting their offerings at 5:00 past the usual start times of their competitors, TBS offered those still searching the chance to watch a program from its start, or near enough, rather than having to join-in-progress.

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