Television operates in seasons. Fall premieres, spring finales and limited summer series run on a strict timeline the networks (ABC, NBC, CBS, FOX) have long utilized to produce foresighted ratings and strategic ad revenue. However, whether these networks are aware of it or not, we as viewers are living amidst their imminent demise.

It is becoming increasing evident that the big networks cannot compete with the options available to the viewer as well as the quality of the shows available elsewhere.  A Netflix or Hulu does not have to bow to a Standards & Practices department nor to a board of conglomerated investors. Instead viewer interest based on “streaming ratings” and demographic algorithms dictate the development of content created. For every Bloodline (Netflix) that exists, ABC develops a show that follows H.G. Wells and his time machine, from the past, to pursue Jack the Ripper from murdering residents of New York City in 2016 – all while wearing an H&M V-neck and skinny jeans. (Not a farce, ABC presented this show at Upfronts last week for a primetime series order).

Where is the disconnect? Who watches these shows and why do over 70% of them fail right out of the gate come September?

Two schools of thought:

  1. Networks simply don’t care and could care even less about the quality of what they produce, as long as ad revenue is consistently generated and their company stock is steady.
  2. Networks do care and place just enough trust in their creators to produce content yet the creative voices that exist in current network TV have moved themselves to the mecca of 3rd party streaming opportunity, leaving show runners behind to sacrifice artistry for quips about sponsored Tide detergent on Blue Bloods.

Probably it’s a bit of both.

Variety’s March 3, 2016 article cites Netflix caused 50% of U.S. TV Viewing to drop in 2015, it further explains:

In 2015, Netflix accounted for about half of the overall 3% decline in TV viewing time among U.S. audiences, according to a new study by Michael Nathanson of Moffett Nathanson. The analyst calculated that based on an estimate that Netflix’s domestic subs streamed 29 billion hours of video last year (Netflix said members worldwide watched 42.5 billion hours in 2015).  Moreover, Nathanson predicts Netflix’s total streaming hours as a percentage of TV viewing will continue to rise to about 14% by 2020. “Currently, Netflix is a source of industry pain, but not necessarily a cause of industry death.”

Content aside, networks are trying to assimilate themselves to current trends to revitalize their lineups. Show orders are now shrinking from the standard 22-24 Episodes to 13 – showcasing them as “event series” a la the British format. A follow-up Variety article reports on TV’s new normal in the wake of the upcoming 2016-17 television landscape: 

“We’ve been more strategic in our scheduling discussions this year because of all the election, live events, football, and holiday fare throughout the year,” says NBC Entertainment president Jennifer Salke. “We are looking for straight runs for these shows, with the fewest interruptions. The serialized shows can especially benefit from a clean run in a world where audiences have so many choices.” 

“…Unprecedented competition from an increased number of platforms offering an increased number of original series has fueled this shift — and has had a profound impact on the current upfront season.” (Variety 5-17-16)

The model is altered, but content’s the same. This essentially proves systematic Nielsen ratings hold no relevance – other than to validate ad buyer investments at Upfront week.  The new ratings validation system… Twitter, Facebook.  Direct viewer interface is what will be the driving factor for future television survival.

“Facebook, taking its latest shot in its social TV battle with Twitter, released the finding of a new study that shows that 60% of TV related interactions on Facebook happen while the show being discussed is on the air.” 

“When looked at holistically, real-time activity around TV and sport on the Facebook platform is hugely compelling and there are important commercial implications, … Audience measurement, TV planning, content discovery, direct response advertising, TV commissioning and research are just some of the sectors that will benefit from the insights coming out of the world’s biggest social network.” (BroadcastingCableOnline)

Grant Cardone. Multi-Millionaire, Real Estate Mogul, Motivational Speaker and Star Owner of the Whatever It Takes Network. You have probably not heard of him… yet, or you have because of his sales training career, New York Times bestselling books, or his investment analysis as a guest correspondent on MSNBC. Mr. Cardone is skilled at many things, but his biggest success is what TV is becoming: A merging of viewers and content. He excels at bridging this gap. Twitter and Facebook are but a springboard into the realm of involvement you can have from the comfort of your own couch.

Mr. Cardone started his own network a few years ago after being courted to host his own show on a cable network. As TV development goes they were stuck and moving too slowly for his liking, so he started his own game that now includes his own reality show with two seasons completed, along with 3-4 free shows a week on his website and YouTube where topics range from personal development to real estate investing skewed toward millennials and retirees. I can speak to his success between his content and viewer interaction, because I have communicated with him three times, in four days. I have been re-tweeted, watched via a video submission on his site and personally called into his weekly show where we talked for two minutes live on air.  Name a network TV show I could do that on, all in one week.

This experiment proves it all. Networks will continue to make terrible programming decisions and follow trends that have no real outcome other than fleeting relevance so their stock is steady; while content created for the people, by the people, will flourish and usher in a new way of experiencing entertainment.  Where will television as we know it be in five years? Hard to say, the landscape is ever-changing, but you can bet on one truth, viewers will determine its outcome.

Side Note: I communicated with a financial savant three times in a week and received a D- in Economics and almost failed Accounting in College.

-Steven Havira

Artist, Actor, Writer/Producer

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