TV News Viewers Can Use: Give Them The Business

We like TV math--and maybe viewers need more of it. As the year comes to a close, we take heart that there are TV producers who are willing to share with their audience what it takes to stay in the business.

A lot has been written about "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip" and how a middling 3.5 rating among 18-49 viewers, and an average of 7 million total viewers per episode, have given this show an air of disappointment.

NBC says--lest we forget--those aren't the only measures of success. "Studio 60" attracts those high-income people who make $75,000 or $100,000 and more. Why are these viewers more valuable than the assistant manager at 7-Eleven? Because not only do they spend more on products, they don't watch much TV. That gives them a  premium price tag.

The fictional show may not have that same profile. Perhaps like the real-life "Saturday Night Live," "Studio"'s viewers are a bit more mainstream, in terms of  salary and age--and certainly somewhat younger that that of most regular prime-time shows.



How can I tell? Aaron Sorkin tells me so. Make that Mr. Sorkin's fictional executive producer on the show, Danny Tripp, played by Bradley Whitford. Here's what he says to Jordan McDeere, president of entertainment for the NBS network, played by Amanda Peet, when confronted with the possibly of having to cut TV production costs: "'Studio 60' doesn't cost the network money, Jordan," says Tripp. "It makes the network money."

"I understand," says McDeere.

"You want to know how much?" asks Tripp. "Our license fee is two million per show. We are clearing $120,000 for a thirty-second spot. We air 26 minutes of commercials. Now five of those minutes are network promos and bumpers, eight are local. That's [all] revenue.

"But we'll only deal with the 13 minutes left over. Thirteen minutes of commercials at $120,000 for 30 seconds, times 22 shows minus the license fee, is a hard dollar profit of $24,640,000 per season.... So tell me again why we have to lay off 15 people?"

That's a lot of deep information about the business for average viewers. Then again, they might not understand all the medical science of an "E.R." or a "Grey's Anatomy." It's the details that give these shows credibility.

We don't know all the math for the real 60-minute show, "Studio 60." There's a reported $3 million per episode budget, an upfront-buying, 30-second-commercial price tag of about $140,000, those middling 3 to 4 ratings, and that upper income data. We could use more info.

The point is that TV and entertainment business news is fast become mainstream news. Consumers are interested. For example, every Monday morning, newspaper, TV and radio stations regularly offer news about the weekend's top-grossing movies.

But if movie executives had their way, you wouldn't see too much of this scorecard for the public. Execs would rather keep that stuff quiet--as well as the amount of the media budgets actually spent on those movies.

TV executives are the same way. They'd rather not have all the bad news ratings blabbed around town. 

But for viewers, understanding is the way to go. Just tell us more financial stuff. We'll feel sorry for you--and watch more.

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