Commentary

TV Promos: Missing The Boat?

My 17-year-old son, a senior in high school, is way too busy these days to watch much television.  But occasionally he takes a break from his busy schedule (and online video-game playing) to watch something with his parents.  

My wife and I DVR about three-quarters of all the prime-time series we watch together.  When we sit down to watch them, we tell our son to let him know.  

Two new series are his favorites: FOX’s “Pitch” and CBS’s “Bull” (along with FX’s “Atlanta,” which my wife and I have not yet seen).

“Pitch” is one of the best new shows of the season.  Unfortunately, it’s on the verge of cancellation primarily because most of its potential target audience has never even heard of it. While ostensibly about baseball, it’s not really a sports show, and should not be marketed as such. It’s a great family drama that should appeal to a broad audience — probably the same viewers that turned NBC’s “This is Us” into a hit.  

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As I’ve written on several previous occasions, not being able to promote a show to the largest chunk of available (and prime) prospects — namely, those watching compatible programming on other broadcast networks — remains an impediment to any network's airing a successful new show that doesn’t fit in with the rest of that network’s lineup.  

A similar situation has hurt CW’s “Frequency,” which deserves a much larger audience than it has drawn.  Don’t you think that if CBS’ new medical drama, “Pure Genius,” was promoted on ABC’s “Grey’s Anatomy” and NBC’s “Chicago Med,” it too might have gotten a bigger audience?

At a time when DVR and subscription video-on-demand services have both hit the 50% penetration level, and multimedia devices are now in 30% of TV homes, the idea that the broadcast networks still see each other as their main (if not only) competition is the height of ridiculousness. Accepting ads from cable networks, streaming services like Netflix, and premium cable networks like HBO and Showtime — but not from other broadcast networks — makes no sense.

It’s about time the networks realize that when a new broadcast series, such as “Empire” or “This is Us,” becomes a hit, it benefits all broadcast networks. It reminds advertisers that except for the occasional mega-hit on cable like “The Walking Dead,” nothing can rival broadcast networks in developing high-rated, high-reach programming.

CBS’ “Bull” is a different story. It’s the highest-rated new show among households and total viewers, and is in the top 20 among adults 18-49.  It fits in well with the rest of CBS’ heavily procedural drama programming.  But because CBS skews older, so does “Bull.”  

I asked my son if he had seen any promos anywhere for “Bull,” and he had not.  The only reason he was aware of the show is because I get all the pilots from the broadcast networks before the season so I can write my new series analysis.  I suspect if a show like “Bull” was promoted to a younger audience, it would be performing even better.

The same can be said of a show like “Criminal Minds” (originals on CBS, repeats on ION).  It has a diverse cast that should appeal to older and younger viewers, men and women.  Every episode focuses on serial killers and often grisly crimes. Why doesn’t it get the younger viewers who love shows about serial killers, like “Dexter,” “Hannibal,” “The Following,” etc.?  Because it’s on CBS and ION, both of which have an older audience, and it’s not promoted to younger viewers, and not promoted as a show about serial killers.

The bottom line is that new series promotions work.  And despite the fact that we live in a digital world, promoting a new show on linear television is still by far the best way to get viewer sampling.  But those promos need to be on the right shows, directed to the right audience.

4 comments about "TV Promos: Missing The Boat?".
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  1. Eli Weisman from Trailer Park, January 25, 2017 at 2:22 p.m.

    How about the reverse? Meaning, how can online services such as YouTubeRed, Red Bull TV, Crackle, et al attract audiences that do not yet yave their app?

  2. Rhodes Mason from Internet Video Archive LLC, January 25, 2017 at 2:32 p.m.

    Study after study shows that the most effective entertainment data that consumers seek is a trailer.  People go to various sites and apps to discover movie, TV, and online content.  They expect metadata, images, and of course promotional video content.

    As our company Internet Video Archive are the leaders in working with MVPD's, websites, and apps to help them fuel content discovery with trailers and clips.  We have found that many of the networks do not take advantage of making their trailers available to these destinations.  It seems they are still in the mindset of 'walled garden' where you can only view these videos on the site or their YouTube channel.  This does not help consumers latch on to a new show if they only have data and images.  

    We have been evangelizing our position for years.  I hope more networks see the value of leveraging their promotional content to drive greater audiences.  Right now, I feel like they are stepping on dollars to pick up pennies.

  3. george schweitzer from cbs, January 25, 2017 at 2:50 p.m.

    that may have been true years ago... but absolitely not now. Networks promote in live sports... NFL, NBA, NCAA, MLB... to reach elusive viewers... also Late Night and daytime all have different comp than prime. we all spend millions to buy media off network -- cable, radio, print, digital, transit, outdoor, movie theatres, shopping malls... so the thesis that we are only speaking to ourselves is just not the case.

  4. Steve Sternberg from The Sternberg Report replied, January 25, 2017 at 3:16 p.m.

    Hi George- I didn't say the networks were only speaking to themselves, I said they only see themselves as true competitors. While it makes sense to go after elusive viewers, it makes more sense to also go after the viewers who are actually more likely to watch a new broadcast show - namely those watching similar programming on other broadcast networks.

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