Network TV shows that are hits in their first season usually do well in the second, which is necessary if they are to become long-term cash cows for the networks that carry them. But not this year.
With very few exceptions the hits of the 2011-2012 season fizzled in 2012-2013. Fox’s New Girl fell from 8.4 to 6.16 million viewers; ABC’s Once Upon a Time fell from 11.84 to 10.4 million; and ABC’s Last Man Standing fell from 9.39 to 7.92 million. (The numbers are from “Sophomore Slump Afflicts Once-Promising TV Shows” by Bill Carter, New York Times, May 13, 2013.)
Carter quotes Warren Littlefield, who was responsible for putting Seinfeld and Friends on NBC when he was head of its entertainment division in the 1990s. “It’s something new for breakout hit shows to be down in their second year. And yes, it’s alarming.”
Apart from the networks’ compulsion to self-inflict wounds both slight and serious, the problem is two-fold. For many viewers, the most exciting shows are on cable. Homeland (Showtime) and Game of Thrones (HBO), among others, generated audience passion and loyalty as few of today’s network shows can. Several executive interviewed by Carter cited this “excitement gap.”
Although numerically less important than the migration from broadcast to original cable programming, the number of people who are giving up both broadcast and cable/satellite is becoming significant. According to Nielsen’s Fourth-Quarter 2012 Cross-Platform Report, released in mid-March, more than 5 million households (slightly less than 5% of total viewers) – up from 2 million in 2007 – do not fit Nielsen’s traditional definition of a TV household. More than three quarters of these home still have at least one TV set, but they use it to watch DVDs, play games, surf the net, or watch streaming media. Of the entire 5 million Zero-TV households, 67% get their video content from other devices: PCs (37%), the Internet (16%), smart phones (8%), and tablets (6%), either exclusively or in addition to the TV set.
Depending on how you look at it, that 5% is either a lot or a little. I think it’s a lot, and it’s going to grow. As a percentage of the total number of Zero-TV homes, the distribution peaks at age 25-34, with 25.1% of the total. The TV Home distribution peaks at age 65 and over, with 24.2% of the total.
Who would you bet on? NBC or Netflix? If you did not say Netflix, this is the time to remind you that House of Cards was the service’s most-watched show ever, and all of the episodes were released at the same time to encourage binging. It worked. More original programming from Netflix is on the way.
Now, let’s ask this. What if HBO or Showtime, whose programs are only available through cable and satellite services, decided to take advantage of the changing wind and make its programming available on Netflix or Amazon? A portion of the cable service’s viewers would lose an important reasons for subscribing to cable/satellite to begin with. It’s just a matter of time.
How much of a problem is this likely to be for cable/satellite? Back to the Nielsen report: Only 5% of video-watching households are Zero-TV households, but 23% percent of Netflix subscribers had cancelled their cable or satellite subscriptions. Ouch.
And none of this takes into account the tremendously improved smart TVs introduced this year by the likes of Samsung and Panasonic; or the much-needed improvements in speed, responsiveness, and reliability of program streaming that are sure to come. The times they are a-changin’.
Ken Werner is Principal of Nutmeg Consultants, specializing in the display industry, display manufacturing, display technology, and display applications. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Posted by Ken Werner, May 15, 2013 4:17 PM
About Ken WernerKenneth I. Werner is the founder and Principal of Nutmeg Consultants, which specializes in the display industry, display technology, display manufacturing, and display applications. He serves as Marketing Consultant for Tannas Electronic Displays (Orange, California) and Senior Analyst for Insight Media. He is a founding co-editor of and regular contributor to Display Daily, and is a regular contributor to HDTVexpert.com and HDTV Magazine. He was the Editor of Information Display Magazine from 1987 to 2005.