Note: Sorry that posts have been so sparse the past two months. In the few posts I’ve offered during this time you’ll see I keep saying I’ve just gotten over a sickness and will be back to work on the blog. Alas, my never-ending cold turned out to be double-pneumonia so I dropped out for a few weeks to kill it once and for all. I really am back this time! I will do a few posts to catch up on things that happened while I was out, starting with this one.
Last week TiVo shared an analysis of its Stop||Watch ratings service that reveals a likely long-term impact of DVR use. They found that when people have a DVR, the majority of the primetime viewing they do is timeshifted in some way, whether started late to skip commercials or recorded for later viewing. No surprise there. But here’s the interesting tidbit: because people still want to watch the 11pm news in time to go to bed, if someone doesn’t start watching the 8pm and 9pm shows until 9pm, it means the 10pm show is just dumb out of luck. Even if it gets recorded, it is less likely to actually be viewed.
Is the 10pm hour dead? (Note for Central and Mountain time people, for you, we’re talking about the 9pm hour. In fact, given that C/M shows run on an hour-earlier schedule, one wonders if this same effect is as true in those time zones. Since the urge to go to bed presumably doesn’t strike an hour earlier, maybe these people are more comfortable watching the 9pm show at 10pm in time to catch the evening news at 10:45, still making it to bed shortly after 11pm.)
The most disturbing thing about this whole analysis is it suggests that NBC Universal head Zucker has a crystal ball.
He’s the guy who cut the budget for 10pm programming as well as authorized increased reality programming (say, Deal or No Deal) which is cheaper to produce than ER, which recently had its farewell episode after an amazingly long but dwindling run. He’s also the force behind The Jay Leno Show, the 10pm primetime talkshow that hopes to cheaply fill the slot that — according to TiVo — fewer and fewer people will be watching. So is the Leno effort just a way to cut costs or is it also strategic? This is the hard part to swallow. Gulp. It may actually be a smart move. Yeah, it probably won’t be a ratings killer every night. That’s why NBC is happy it will be cheap to produce. However, once in a while, say, when a ship captain who was held hostage by Somali pirates is booked, the show will become current events, the kind of thing people will want to watch live, joining the few things in the pantheon of TV that are true DVR-busters like sports and news.
It may turn out that the 10pm hour will become the new Today Show — a cheap way to fill time that periodically strikes it big. And that’s just the first long-term trend in TV that the DVR will force. A bigger question is hanging out there in the balance that remains to be answered, namely, in the future, how will we know which shows we should watch?
Sounds like a silly question, but I’m serious: today you rely on the networks to do all the filtering for you. If the idea is a good one, they’ll invest heavily in it, attract the right talent, promote it heavily, and schedule it in a winning spot. You probably don’t consciously think through all of that, but they certainly do. And we are the beneficiaries of all that sweat and effort. But in a world where we watch hours of TV shows on our PCs and can DVR all of the content coming off the air, how relevant is programming and scheduling? In an all on-demand world, there’s no scheduling at all, leaving you no way to know which shows are worth your time.
What do you think? How will the market signal to us which shows are hot and which are not?
One obvious answer is word of mouth, but what will that look like? One additional trend that will increase under these conditions: the rise of star producers like J.J. Abrams and Joss Whedon. In the old days, you didn’t need to know that Aaron Spelling created your favorite TV shows. That was clout Spelling used behind the scenes. But in the future, more producers will have to take their pitch directly to their fans in the audience, something Whedon has already said he wants to do, as soon as he can figure out a way to fund it.
We’re just at the beginning of a fundamental shift in the way we not only watch TV, but how we decide what we should watch in the first place. Your suggestions on how this will evolve are more than welcome.