Television Networks Need to Partner with Viewers if They Want to Survive Peak TV

By | March 24, 2017

Peak TV continues full steam ahead as it appears that we will have more than 500 scripted shows on the broadcast networks, cable channels and streaming services by the end of the year. For science fiction and fantasy fans alone, there are over 100 airing, returning or upcoming shows — quite a bit to keep up with, and the competition will take its toll at some point.

When that bursting of the bubble does eventually come (because the iron law of economics tells us that the numbers cannot go up indefinitely), I believe that the networks most likely to survive will be those that choose to partner with their viewers instead of looking at them as just consumers.

[Credit: Fox]
[Credit: Fox]

For far too long, the television networks have remained ratings-focused and have clung to an outdated model that relies on advertising revenue (tied to those ratings) to cover the production costs of shows.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 keeps viewers at arm’s length while ignoring the fact that current technology allows many options to partner with those watching their shows.

As the television landscape continues to change, I believe it will be vital to embrace this potential for partnership in order to keep their shows from sinking amidst the competition. Here are four opportunities the networks should be looking at closely in the current environment, and I invite them to chime in with other opportunities that also offer similar potential for partnership.

1. Social Networks

Fans have been very active supporting 'Timeless' on the social nets this season. 'Timeless' [Credit: Sony Pictures TV]

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. Perhaps other social networks like Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat offer similar opportunities. Organized social network activity even when an episode is not airing also helps promote the show and draw attention to it, offering another means by which engaged viewers can work together with the networks to support and keep that series on the air.

2. Digital Viewing

Syfy has previously touted the high digital viewership of 'The Expanse' [Credit: NBC Universal TV]

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. While the revenue may not be as high from the limited ad spots included with these streams, the actual viewing is something that can be counted in full without having to rely only on the audience sampling provided by Nielsen.

I already see many networks promoting digital viewing and they should start sharing those numbers to encourage the activity. 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

Could an episode purchase campaign have kept 'Constantine' going into a second season? [Credit: Warner Bros. TV]

Most shows are available for purchase shortly after their live broadcast through services like Amazon Video, iTunes, Vudu and more. 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, then 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), Tabasco (Roswell), advertising (The Sarah Connor Chronicles), why not instead channel that into episode downloads that could actually help the show’s cash flow and keep it going for another season?

4. Alternate Measurement Services

According to SymphonyAM, 'Stranger Things' had 21.7 million viewers in its first 35 days. [Credit: Netflix]

What about the new measurement service SymphonyAM? Anybody who wants can participate and only has to download a free app to one or more mobile devices to have their viewership activity measured (more info here). This company outed the viewership numbers on Netflix and they are tracking all of the television channels and streaming services.

If participating there will help, networks should let the viewers know to jump on this bandwagon. There may be other services like this out there where viewers can choose to participate instead of hoping to be picked as one of the select few, like with the Nielsen company.

Partnership Is Key In The Peak TV Era

'Star Trek: TOS' [Credit: CBS TV]

The fact is, viewers get attached to their television shows and are willing to be active if they know that their participation will help. In the current, uber-competitive environment, the networks that tap into this have one more resource at their disposal. It gives them a dedicated base of partners that will work with them to help keep their shows viable. In the past, networks have been seen as distant and uncaring. The ones that choose to change that image and work together with the viewers will be positioning themselves to better survive as the television landscape continues to change and evolve in the years to come.

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