I know from years of experience that predicting viewer behavior and the performance of programs is as much of an art as a science, which is why I was happy to participate in a recent Simon Applebaum podcast for his program Tomorrow Will Be Televised. Marc Berman, Programming Insider's Founder/Editor-in-Chief, and I sat down and discussed various aspects of the TV landscape. The overarching subject was how TV was performing so far in 2020 and where it might be going as the year progresses- an imposing subject especially during a pandemic.
The Big Story So Far in 2020
For me, the biggest story for 2020 so far is the uncertainty and sense of unknown. Will we get a second wave of the pandemic? Will consumers regain their confidence? How will that impact advertisers? From a measurement perspective we have seen over the past six months an expanded use of screens, a jump in co-viewing as families are sheltering-in-place and children are attending school virtually. We have also seen a great increase in news viewership to inform us about unprecedented past events as well as the upcoming election.
Berman concurred. "We are in a world of unknowns now. We don't really know what is going to happen. Anything can happen." He noted that finally in the previous week, the five broadcast networks announced what they are planning for the new season. "But the question is will they be starting the fall season in the fall?" Last season, he pointed out, there were 17 new series, 36 new shows. This year we have only 8 new TV shows. "What they are doing is using content from other sources to fill the schedule." He added that another unknown is live sports. "Will we have Sunday night Football? I don't know." I added that the absence of live sports, such as NFL Football could depress ratings.
The pace of production is a concern according to Applebaum, whether in LA or New York. "Everyone is on pins and needles as to when the shows will be produced," he stated. "When the coronavirus pandemic started there were 70-75 scripted TV shows that were in production here in New York. Pilots that weren't made and we don't know when production will be coming back."
A Cause For Some Optimism
My note of optimism here is the sudden availability of what I call "origination content" from sources such as, for example, the Metropolitan Opera that are streaming past performances from their library or the ability to sample programming from international providers. This enables viewers to sample content from a range of heretofore undiscovered sources. Discovery is a positive aspect of all of this uncertainty.
For Applebaum it is the smart TV which is the center of all of the activity. "We are seeing more people watch television over their Smart TV sets and smart devices, subscription, the major services such as whether it is Disney+ or Apple+ or Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon. We are seeing more Smart TV services get off the ground," he noted. And advertisers are taking note of this trend.
Add to this the various new uses for these screens such as online wellness – meditation and yoga – gaming, virtual meetings that bring people together, so the screen will expand as it becomes smarter, I added. It is also humanizing a lot of the talent when they broadcast from their homes, offering fans a way to connect even more to their favorite hosts. "It's an interesting situation," stated Berman, "because in the time of uncertainty … it's almost a creative challenge and there is a lot out there to consume." For Berman, he couldn't imagine a show like American Idol as working virtually, "but it did work. The contestants were at home performing and it felt personal. It felt comfortable."
Data, Program Production and the Viewer
With all of these wonderful streaming services and new places to discover content, the researcher in me is a little worried about how all of this will be measured. There are still many walled gardens and our ability to compile all of these proprietary data sources continues to be challenged. For the viewer it is a great opportunity to see more content. For the industry, it may be a challenge collecting the data.
Berman wondered if there is a tipping point where there are so many choices and the viewer gets fatigued. But with all of the potential new and co-productions being available through the myriad of services, it may spark viewer enthusiasm as it increases choice. "The way to make all of this work, financially as well, is (co-production and partnerships) as a growing trend," he stated, "The content has been stellar."
With all of this content out there, how can your programming be discovered by the consumer? Marketing plans will have to be re-evaluated and very creative to best navigate all of the available platforms and opportunities to view. "I've been noticing a lot of live events," noted Berman, who attended a special event for The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel before the pandemic, "They were making it more interactive, more live. That is on hold now but maybe it will go back again."
The future may be uncertain but one thing is sure, the media industry remains an indispensable element in people's lives and what happens in the next six months may set the tone for the foreseeable future. Certainly a medium that continues to offer compelling, original content in flexible formats is here to stay … providing we can figure out how to best measure it.
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The opinions expressed here are the author's views and do not necessarily represent the views of MediaVillage.com/MyersBizNet.