Peak TV continues at full speed as the number of scripted shows available on the broadcast networks, cable channels, and streaming services increases each year. For science fiction & fantasy fans alone, there are over 40 shows that will be hitting the schedule from September to November, quite a bit to keep up with (you can see the full Fall schedule at this link). And throughout all this, the networks prefer to remain in their ivory towers, cranking out an ever-bulging stream of television programming while monitoring the old-school ratings system to see if one of their shows has become the next Walking Dead or Game of Thrones. But more often than not, especially with the current overload, shows instead get cut short after a season or two. Far too long the television networks have remained ratings-focused and have clung to an outdated model that relies on advertising revenue (tied to those ratings) to cover the production costs of shows. But this is no longer in line with how people are watching television these days, and it continues to keep viewers at arm’s length while ignoring the fact that current technology allows many options to look at the audience as partners and not just consumers. As the television landscape continues to change, I believe that the networks which position themselves best for survival are the ones that will embrace this potential for partnership to keep their shows from sinking amidst the competition. Here are four opportunities the networks should be looking at closely in the current environment.
1. Social Networks
Live-tweeting when a show airs a new episode has become a popular social network activity that networks should encourage and that should help a show’s chances for survival. Live-tweeting proves an active and engaged audience and the trending helps promote the show. Plus, the sponsors know that viewers are watching while their commercials are running (if it airs on the broadcast networks or the basic cable channels). Fans are more than willing to organize efforts to get a show trending, especially if it is struggling in the ratings, and the support from the network could help give these efforts a boost. And perhaps other social networks like Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat offer similar opportunities. This sort of social network interaction is a means by which engaged viewers can work together with the networks to support and keep a show on the air.
2. Digital Viewing
Digital viewing could be a key factor, especially if the numbers are high enough. Many of the networks have made episodes available online at their websites and/or on Hulu and other venues. And while the revenue may not be as high from the limited adspots included with these streams, the actual viewing is something that can be counted in full without having to rely on a flawed sample. I already see many networks promoting digital viewing and they should start sharing those numbers to encourage the activity. Because if fans know that watching over the internet can help their shows, then they can focus their energies in that direction.
3. VOD / Episode Downloads
Most shows are available for purchase shortly after their live broadcast through services like Amazon Video, iTunes, Vudu, and more. And these generally come at a nominal price of $2 to $4 per episode with a discount for a season pass. The revenue for these downloads should go straight to the bottom line, so if this is a way that fans can help a struggling show survive or assure that it stays on the air, the networks should let them know. When you think of the money that has gone into “Save My Show” campaigns for things like nuts (Jericho), Tobasco (Roswell), advertising (The Sarah Connor Chronicles), why not instead channel that into episode downloads that could actually help the show’s prospects?
4. Alternate Measurement Services
What about the new measurement service SymphonyAM? Anybody who wants can participate in that and only has to download a free app to one or more mobile devices to have their viewership activity measured. That’s the company that outed the viewership numbers on Netflix and they are tracking all of the television channels and streaming services. If participating in that service will help, the networks should let the viewers know to jump on this bandwagon. And there may be other services like this out there where viewers can choose to participate instead of having to be added to a select few like with the Nielsen company.
The fact is that viewers get attached to their television shows and are willing to be active if they know that their participation will help. And in the current uber-competitive environment, the networks that tap into this have yet one more resource on their side. And not just that, they have a dedicated base of partners that they are working with to help keep their shows viable. Fans will respond to networks that listen to them and show a willingness to work with them. So often the networks have been seen as distant and uncaring, so the ones that choose to change that image and work together with the viewers will be positioning themselves better to survive as the television landscape continues to change and evolve in the years to come.