ABC’s recent "Live in Front of a Studio Audience: ‘All in the Family’ and ‘Good Times’ " -- a retro-theme 90-minute show, airing on a Wednesday, pulled in a Nielsen-measured 5.8 million viewers. Versus other scripted and non-scripted entertainment shows, this performance wasn't too bad.
But compared to a recent “Thursday Night Football” game on Fox, which pulled in 12.1 million viewers, it's far behind.
And what about TV news programs -- other live TV programming? Let’s take Fox News Channel’s top-rated “Hannity,” which recently posted a hefty 4.2 million Nielsen viewers. Sounds pretty good, except that NBC’s “Sunday Night Football,” another live piece of programming, pulled in 18.3 million.
It may not be fair, some would say, to compare apples and oranges -- and on different days and times. But TV programming and scheduling decisions have always been fluid affairs -- pitting drama versus comedy, reality versus sports. What does the viewer really want?
Think back a year ago, when 21st Century Fox decided to sell half its TV and film businesses to Walt Disney.
Today, Fox’s Corp core asset, the Fox Television Network, focuses on sports, particularly “Thursday Night Football” and the World Series in the fall. So far, season to date, Fox is not only ahead of all TV networks in key Nielsen viewing metrics, 18-49ers and total average viewers -- but has shown rare growth for a network in these areas.
Somewhat confusingly, Fox also made a decision to sell its 22 regional sports networks. Why get rid of this sports platform? While the NFL offers strong live entertainment, regional sports networks are finding new, direct-to-consumer streaming platforms aren’t exactly rushing to sign onto those networks.
What then will happen to RSNs, which generated $3.8 billion in revenue, with 74 million subscribers in 2018? Will traditional pay TV providers continue to step up and pay ever-higher carriage fees for these networks? Will they see -- as ESPN has -- some slow subscriber erosion?
Early this year, Sinclair Broadcast Group paid $10.6 billion for 21 RSNs -- as well as an equity interest in the Yes Network, believing it should also focus on live TV programming — sports as well as news. News programming is a large piece of Sinclair’s TV stations content.
If live TV programming continues to work, what non-sports area could see some improvement? TV networks have tried many end-of-the-year musicals -- many of which posted 10 million plus viewers for each attempt. But the novelty may be wearing off.
ABC's attempts around retro live comedy programming has slowed. Its second attempt was about half that of its first in May -- featuring a live staging of “All in the Family” and “The Jeffersons,” which took in10.4 million viewers.
For its part, in addition to live musicals, NBC gets the benefit of mostly live programming from 16-days of the Summer and Winter Olympics.
Have we run out of ideas?