Commentary

TV's Scheduling Challenge: We Watch In An On-Demand Age

TV scheduling has always been a key task of TV networks executives when it comes to prime-time entertainment. What happens now in a mostly on-demand world of TV and movie non-sports entertainment?

The answer revolves around focusing on -- what else -- the now popular descriptor “live TV.” At both its respective upfront press conferences, Fox and NBC talked up the importance of live TV.

But digging deeper, perhaps we should examine, in a granular way, the percentage of TV viewers still watching regularly scheduled, once-a-week airings of TV entertainment prime-time programming.

In addition to entertainment shows, this includes big unscripted TV shows. Those competition series, which, pre-pandemic, typically included studio audiences, can add excitement -- and thus more live TV interest. Two examples here: NBC’s “The Voice” and Fox’s “The Masked Singer.”

Plus, this upcoming season, NBC will offer another live Broadway-like musical show, a new version of “Annie!” Fox, and other networks, have done live musicals in the past.

Scheduling -- and a pull for live TV viewing -- is a far easier call for sports. This includes the Olympics, even when those two-week every-other-year events are held half-way around the world with time zone differences and package both live and “delayed” programming.

A couple of years ago, some might have rolled their eyes when it came to Fox Corp. selling half its entertainment businesses --T V and film -- to Walt Disney -- citing its intent to focus much more on live news and sports programming.

Now, this plan doesn’t look so crazy -- especially when big media companies are fighting with each other via new premium streaming platforms almost entirely comprised of on-demand TV and movie content, stuff consumers generally have to pay monthly for.

Still, we come back to what’s left for legacy TV networks -- especially the importance of scheduling regular non-event, non-live entertainment shows.

How much will on-demand programming -- on premium streamers, digital media, set-top box VOD (from cable, satellite, telco, virtual providers), and cloud-based/DVR machine time-shifted viewing machines -- effect the live, linear TV scheduling process?

Will decades-old concerns about “lead-in” and “lead-out” programming still be a thing? Perhaps if more entertainment/unscripted content is placed around high-profile, high-viewing live TV sports content -- like the Super Bowl -- it would be.

But if not, scheduling of non-sports, non-news TV shows -- to be seen during live airings -- will need a different approach.

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