My Time, Your Time, Anytime is Prime Time

The erosion of the broadcast schedule and the redefinition of prime time is a theme that continues to pervade many discussions and commentaries on Things That Are Important to the media community.

Although obviously not new (think VCR), the extent to which the morphing of the schedule has accelerated in the last ten years cannot have been missed by any but the most myopic of observers.

With DVRs, VOD, online video and the reshaping of the live schedule itself, consumers are more and more able to choose when to watch their programs of choice. Naturally, this still refers to a minority of overall viewing, but the trend clearly continues to take us toward a time when the notion of a broadcast schedule is only applicable to a minority of viewing and viewers.

While this is no doubt some way off -- you may think it will never happen - it is interesting to ponder for a moment such a scenario.

After all, the industry -- on the whole - sees the erosion of the broadcast schedule as a bad thing. While consumers can clearly benefit from increased control and choice (not of content but in when to watch), we have yet to prove the viability of different approaches to advertising to widespread satisfaction (or anything else in a fully on-demand world). We are still investigating formats and debating the merits of different approaches to the opportunities and challenges presented by DVRs, VOD, addressable advertising etc. Hardly surprising, then, that those benefiting from the status quo are anxious to maintain it. And the status quo in this context equals the broadcast schedule.



But look at it a different way. Imagine a scenario in which say, 80% of viewing is on-demand in one form or another. Long before that time, the economics of the matter will have forced the creative and intellectual muscles of the industry to develop solutions to the current challenges. instead of viewing such a scenario with dread, I strongly suspect our perspective would be rather different.

After all, consumers would almost certainly be watching more TV as it will fit into their lifestyles rather than the other way around (possibly the major perceived benefit of the DVR after all); we are less likely to miss programs we enjoy that are scheduled against each, other as we'll be able to record them or catch up in one of a number of on-demand ways; we'll also have many opportunities to interact with favorite programs and related content through online and through our digital TVs at the time of our choice. Some of this is happening now. In the future it will be refined in the light of what we learn, and there is going to be a heck of a lot more of it.

Sure, we haven't fully defined the advertising models for this brave new world yet, but we will. That seems like a reason to look forward to a time of minimal schedule-based viewing as one where people watch more TV content, but interact with more related content beyond the program, and where the notion -- or straitjacket -- of prime time is wholly redefined.

Rather than prime time defined on a mathematical basis of when the most people are watching TV simultaneously (albeit different programs), each of us will have our own prime time based on how we live. No doubt these will aggregate and we'll be able to cluster them together to some extent, but perhaps more important will be the definition of "prime programs" - for example, those that achieve a certain level of viewing within a given timeframe across any platform. Media measurement is moving toward being able to deliver against this concept. We just need to advance our thinking on how advertisers leverage this new scenario -- and the learnings need to be widely disseminated in the industry, so decision-making can be fully informed and confident.

All of this is already taking place to some extent of course. But it seems to me that attempts to retain the broadcast schedule and the current notion of prime-time long-term are not only doomed to failure, but miss the underlying opportunity for the TV business.

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