TV Networks Need New Plan
When it was announced that NBC was turning its 10 pm time slot to Jay Leno, I had the same puzzled reaction as most. Brian Stelter, though, argues that we’re likely seeing the future of network television.
The programming and viewing habits of the last 50 years — exemplified by the checkerboard of competing programs on the broadcast networks — are being replaced by an Internet-influenced time-shifting model of scheduling. As a result, the very definition of prime time may be changing.
“We do have to continue to rethink what a broadcast network is,” Jeffrey Zucker, the chief executive of NBC Universal, a unit of General Electric, said at an industry conference Monday, hours before the news of Mr. Leno’s new assignment emerged. He warned that if changes were not undertaken, “the broadcast networks will end up like the newspaper business or, worse, like the car companies.” Maybe Mr. Zucker has seen the future; after all, his network has lost 50 percent of its 10 p.m. audience in the last three years.
Time-shifting of all sorts — a combination of DVRs, Internet video viewing, cable repeats, DVD sales and other viewing patterns — is having a profound impact on all the networks. The always-on nature of content, inspired by the Internet, is freeing consumers from the previously all-powerful schedule. And it is making the networks think more like cable channels, which tend to repeat shows more often.
Advertisers pay for air time using ratings that include only the first three days of DVR playback, under the assumption that the ads become less relevant over time and that most viewers will watch shows by then. As a result, networks are looking to schedule programming that can encourage live viewing.
On Tuesday, Ben Silverman, the co-chairman of NBC Entertainment, called “The Jay Leno Show” a “killer app,” not only because of the comedian’s talents, but because “you want to watch it that night, and you want to watch it the next night.”
Or, in my case, not want to watch it at all.
But they’re on the right track. Aside from football games and breaking news, I watch nothing “live” anymore. Indeed, I’m only vaguely aware of what networks air the shows I watch, much less the time slot in which they’re broadcast. Everything is either on my DVR or otherwise downloaded to watch at my convenience.
Increasingly, my wife and I don’t even bother watching new shows when they debut, preferring instead to catch them a season or two later on Netflix. It’s actually quite annoying, especially for serial dramas, to be at the mercy of the network’s scheduling vagaries. It’s much more enjoyable to watch the episodes back-to-back in a relative short period.