Friday, 28 May 2010

Free Advice For TV Executives - Part 1

I was watching the final episode of FlashForward this morning and it occurred to me that, while it wasn’t a perfect show, it did have potential. Given that there are a lot of TV shows which have no potential, are mediocre at best, then why had FlashForward been cancelled? The easy answer is a lack of viewers; not enough viewers means less advertising dollars, less advertising dollars means that the show doesn’t cover its costs. A simple business decision that anyone would make.

The next logical question is why was there a decline in viewers? According to TV studio executives it is all down to the viewers: people don’t like heavily serialised shows, people don’t relate to the characters, people find the plot too confusing, people can’t start watching in the middle of a series. What the execs universally fail to consider is that it might be their own fault, not the viewers. I have therefore come up with some free advice for TV executives to make good TV shows more profitable.

The first nail in the coffin of any good TV show is a lack of consistency in scheduling. With this in mind can I suggest the following:

No Hiatuses
Nothing is more frustrating when watching a heavily serialised show, than a gap of 3 months in the middle of a season. I’m sorry, maybe it is just me, but when I get into a story I don’t appreciate it being put on hold for long enough that I forget what was going on. Not only is it hard to remember what happened before the break, it is hard to remember why you watched the show in the first place and therefore why you start watching it again.

I don’t think there has ever been a show that has fully retained its viewership after a hiatus. The reasons for this are simple: 1) Loss of momentum - the show has to build interest and momentum from scratch, 2) Lack of caring - the audience forgets why they watched the show in the first place, 3) It is a good sign that the show is about to be cancelled - so why bother watching it again.

The only time a show should ever be put on hiatus is if it has already been cancelled and the network has finished episodes to show. If the show hasn’t already been cancelled the hiatus is almost sure to kill it anyway.

No Random Skip Weeks
Similar to the above, it is incredibly annoying when you tune in for a show only to find it not on. I understand that sometimes networks need to skip a week for special events: Christmas, the Superbowl etc but the disruption seems to be maximised rather than minimised. It isn’t too bad in the UK, generally only the network covering a sporting event interrupts its programming and there is a maximum of one weeks interruption for things like Christmas and Easter. American networks on the other hand, just seem to randomly decide not to air shows for the sheer hell of it. I can just imagine the program scheduler sitting in a meeting and saying; “It’s Bob’s dog’s birthday this week, better run repeats so he doesn’t miss anything.”, it genuinely seems that arbitrary.

Knowing that a show will be on from week to week makes it much easier to build momentum and for the audience to get excited about it.

No Day/Time Changes
This has to be the most obvious observation of all time, but if you change the day or time you air a show, you will definitely lose viewers. Put simply a lot of people watch TV when they have free time, if that free time no longer coincides with your show they will stop watching. Furthermore you won’t pick up viewers who’s free time now coincides with the show because they have missed the start of the season. It would be bad enough if there was one change, but some shows are shuffled around at random.

The first step in retaining viewers is simply not to annoy the hell out of them by making it difficult for them to continue watching the show. Next time I will look at how - heaven forbid - networks could attract viewers mid-season.

[712 Words]

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