Commentary

In Age Of Time-Shifted Viewing, Networks Stay On Schedule

It seems so quaint, doesn’t it? TV networks, in this day and age, announcing their fall schedules according to such antiquated notions as the day and time.

This week’s network upfront presentations in New York, in which the prime-time schedules take center stage, show the broadcast networks continuing to straddle that thin line between the past and the future.

In many ways, the past and future are here colliding in the present, where that thin line is located. The past is represented by TV program schedules in which shows are slotted the old-fashioned way -- by counter-programming them against what the other three networks have on.

Incredibly, the broadcast networks still do this, although so much of their competition in these time periods is coming from sources other than their direct competition -- basic cable, for example, which also schedules its programs in this linear manner, plus all manner of other attractions and distractions -- from streaming to gaming.

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The future is represented by the growing habit among many viewers to watch their shows at times of their own choosing.

For those who still set their DVRs to record, knowing the time that a show is on remains helpful. But the so-called “future” of ignoring network TV schedules altogether is already here. And it is here to stay, and growing.

The networks have been walking this tightrope for a while now: Serving the advertising community -- and viewers who are still beholden by force of habit to watching scheduled “linear” television -- with programming schedule charts with all those rows of horizontal bands containing their shows and their competitors’.

At the same time, all of the networks offer their programs -- now known as “content” -- in any number of alternative ways, including on their own Web sites and also through licensing arrangements with the SVOD services. And they are also in the business of growing their own streaming services.

And while they ballyhoo their new linear lineups for next fall at this week's upfronts, they are also talking up their digital growth -- particularly where digital viewership creates opportunities for advertisers here at the outset of the upfront selling season.

It’s good to be a TV network, isn't it? Even when your old ways of doing business appear to be irreversibly slipping slowly away, ad sales are still measured in the tens of billions of dollars.

The Wall Street Journal said this week the networks will “collect $67.23 billion” in ad revenue in 2019. This spring’s upfront season alone is expected to bring in $21.25 billion in fall season spending commitments, the WSJ said.

Somehow, for the time being, and perhaps for a number of years to come, network television might still be able to straddle this tightrope -- devising linear TV schedules year after year while also preparing for the tipping point when time-shifted viewing becomes so pervasive that linear schedules will become superfluous.

How much do you want to bet the networks will be more than ready when that happens?

Photo courtesy of Fox TV: Kim Cattrall in the new Fox drama “Filthy Rich” announced this week.

5 comments about "In Age Of Time-Shifted Viewing, Networks Stay On Schedule".
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  1. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, May 14, 2019 at 10:22 a.m.

    Adam, I wonder where that $67 billion in ad revenue for "the networks" will come from? All national TV spending, counting cable and syndication, plus unwireds as well as the five broadcast TV netwirks amounts to only $45 billion or so---and that's a gross, not a net figure.

  2. Lauren Leff from Video Advertising Bureau, May 14, 2019 at 3:24 p.m.

    Ed, Zenith is the source for the $67 billion ad revenue figure the networks are expected to collect in 2019. 

  3. Koenraad Deridder from Dekoder, May 14, 2019 at 4:33 p.m.

    Research from the BBC shows that appointment viewing is still the dominant way of viewing, not zapping or discovery. Though younger viewers more and more make the first appointment with a VOD platform and not with a linear channel, the need to schedule the release of content in a way that optimizes chances that it fits the lifestyle and habits of the viewers remains the same. So VOD also has to be scheduled. And linear has to be scheduled taking into account the competition of the (in classic ratings softwares often) invisible timeshifted viewing. The insights of schedulers in the life of viewers therefore remain very important (you may have guessed that I was once a scheduler...). 

  4. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, May 14, 2019 at 5:15 p.m.

    Thaks, Lauren. I can't beleive that Zenith could make such a mistake so the figure in question must represent something other than the ad revenues of "the networks". Total TV ad revenues in the U.S. are only around $75 billion and this includes local station time sales to national and local/regional advertisers as well as local time sales made by cable, plus national syndication ad dollars. If you take the total TV figure and reduce it by about 15% to come up with a "net" number, less agency commissions, you get near the figure quoted, however it is far higher than the combined take of the basic cable channels and the five broadcast TV nets combined.

  5. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, May 15, 2019 at 12:10 a.m.

    So all of the shows i.e. contestants on "voting"shows is one big farce. Most of the audience, would be voters, are not watching during the time voting takes place. Plus, they are not re-sellable, basically dead meat after 2 weeks or less.

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