Remember When We "Binged" Broadcast?

By Ed Martin Report Archives
Cover image for  article: Remember When We "Binged" Broadcast?

Once upon a time we couldn't binge a television program. Our world was not yet built that way. But the reality of sitting for three hours or longer and watching one platform (as even networks are now referred to) wasn't all that unusual. Isn't that what we do today when we "Netflix and chill"? (I don't mean to favor Netflix here, but I do wonder why the other streamers have not come up with similarly catchy promotional phrases.)

Sitting in front of one network for several hours may not constitute a program binge, but it could be considered a platform binge, couldn't it? And when the content on that platform features dozens of well-produced, non-repetitive commercials throughout those hours (perhaps starting in early fringe and continuing into late night), that's a win for advertisers, isn't it? I am not prepared to predict that ads interrupting original streaming shows will prove to be as easy to take as they are on broadcast, which is built to accommodate them. Only time will tell. For now, I find them especially jarring on Prime Video, especially when watching foreign-language series, one of the most enticing features on any streaming platform.

I felt a rush of nostalgia when I first saw the old TV Guide ad pictured above, which reminded me of countless nights enjoying several hours of entertainment while seated in front of one "channel." How well I remember that Tuesday night lineup on ABC … and so many other nightly network schedules from the '70s and '80s and even the '90s … from ABC's Friday (The Brady Bunch, The Partridge Family, Room 222, The Odd Couple, Love American Style) to CBS' Saturday (All in the Family, M*A*S*H, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, The Bob Newhart Show, The Carol Burnett Show) to NBC's Must-See Thursday (The Cosby Show, Family Ties, Cheers, Wings, Hill Street Blues).

Of course, some shows slid out of those lineups (especially on NBC's Thursday, which was eventually home to Friends, Mad About You, Frasier, Seinfeld and ER, among others). But that's not the point. Millions of people sat glued to one network for entire evenings, and in hindsight it's not difficult to understand why. Broadcast comedies and dramas were developed not to garner critical acclaim and win awards but to entice and entertain people -- and, by extension, provide invaluable showplaces for advertisers. Yes, there were fewer viewing choices, but even during the early decades of cable television a Friends, Seinfeld, Murder She Wrote, Golden Girls or American Idol could grab people and hold millions of them.

And, to return to the ad above and others like it, there were places -- primarily the once-ubiquitous TV Guide -- where program and schedule advertisements made a real impact. They didn't just promote lineups and cross-promote shows; they made people feel like they were being invited to share a communal experience. Coming upon ads like those when TV Guide arrived in the mail could generate enthusiasm days before the shows aired. (As with broadcast television, TV Guide isn't what it used to be. But what print publication is? Perhaps that's another column for another time.)

Do we see such impactful TV advertisements today in print or online, even though there are more television programs available for consumption on more platforms than ever before? Not that I've noticed. If you've noticed, I would like to hear about them.

Primetime promotion was one thing; daytime quite another. I vividly recall ABC Daytime's on-air promotional strategies in the '70s and '80s, when the network's skilled marketing team frequently highlighted all three of its then-red-hot hour-long dramas in the same spots. They weren't about watching All My Children, One Life to Live or legendary powerhouse General Hospital (which, I was told long ago by sales executives, once made so much money for ABC that it funded the network's primetime development). Rather, those flashy commercials were about watching all three shows all the time. Or repeatedly bingeing the network's afternoon lineup, if you will. (This was before the arrival of the VCR!)

If such all-inclusive commercial spots have returned -- beyond the likes of those basic promos for Chicago Wednesdays on NBC and FBI Tuesdays on CBS -- I am not aware of them. But I am very aware of CBS' increasingly clever promotions of its Thursday night lineup. (Back in the '80s, '90s and early 2000s, who could have imagined that CBS would have the Must-See lineup of the night, if not the week, on Thursdays?) Stars from shows on that night -- from Young Sheldon to Ghosts to So Help Me Todd and the upcoming Elsbeth -- are often seen cross promoting each other's series. It's fun, and I can't imagine that it is not effective.

Can streamers accomplish the same thing with stars from their shows? For now, with only those bizarre Paramount+ mountain spots to go by, I'll say no. Given the way people watch them, though, there wouldn't be much point, anyway. But broadcast needs all the help it can get. Going forward, maybe it can benefit from simple successes of its past.

Meanwhile, I'm happier bingeing a platform than a streaming series, because more often than not the latter is an eight- or ten-hour movie that could have been told in much less time … or via weekly installments that keep me engaged for weeks or months. What's the rush, anyway?

Posted at MediaVillage through the Thought Leadership self-publishing platform.

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