I spent some time over the past few nights catching up on the hit summer TV series “Under the Dome”, thanks to the Amazon Instant Video service. This series, based on the book by Stephen King, has been a huge success for CBS, and according to the Nielsen ratings, it is the number one scripted TV series this summer.
So I began to think as I watched the various characters from “Under the Dome” such as Barbie, “Big Jim”, Angie, Norrie, and Junior: what makes this show a hit? I think it is a combination of an interesting plot, neat special effects, and some good character development.
The series also delivers something else: the “it” factor among the key demographic of 18-34 year old viewers. The “Dome” also has a huge social media buzz, which is vital to capturing that demographic.
The success of “Under the Dome” is a good case study in the future of broadcast television marketing. Personally, I have my wife to thank for getting me into the show because initially I had no real interest in watching it. It made me think about how the marketing of television programming has evolved, and will continue to do so in the future.
NBC says “Me too”
Anyone who has worked in marketing, as I have, is familiar with the “me too” approach. A product or a concept is launched and is met with success, so the competition lines up in those instances to launch a similar product or concept.
In this case, due to the success of CBS with Stephen King’s “Under the Dome”, now NBC and their programming chief, Bob Greenblatt, announced that they will be running a new version of Stephen King’s “Tommyknockers” during the upcoming TV season.
This news and the news on some other mini-series launches were covered by The Hollywood Reporter, who also reported the announcement that NBC had hired Quinn Taylor away from ABC to run their mini-series and “longform” programming. This move is significant because Mr. Taylor has worked on previous Stephen King mini-series projects (www.hollywoodreporter.com).
The other mini-series projects announced by NBC include:
- Mark Burnett produced series sequel to “The Bible” series which aired on The History Channel during Lent
- Hilary Clinton project with Diane Lane playing the former First Lady, Senator, and Secretary of State
- A re-make of Rosemary’s Baby based on the wildly popular book and movie
Now, in fairness to NBC, Mr. Greenblatt has stated his commitment for a long time now to limited series, special event, and live television programming. I have written previous articles about the need to make changes to the marketing and promotion of broadcast television programming, the limited series approach is one strategy which could be successful in delivering increased ratings.
Along those same lines, NBC is going to air a special event quiz show, which will run continuously for a certain number of days streaming over their website. The quiz show will air a segment in prime time each night over the course of the event, and will be hosted by Ryan Seacrest.
Finally, NBC is expanding their commitment to live sports television programming by landing the U.S. broadcast rights to the English Premier League soccer games. They will air games live on NBC and the NBC Sports Network. The network will also continue their exclusive coverage of the Olympics with the Winter Games in February 2014.
A Changing Landscape
I have written previously about the changing landscape of television, and the plethora of devices and services which provide content streaming over the internet.
The premium cable channels such as Starz and Encore have expanded their own production on original series and mini-series programming. The entry of subscription content providers, such as Netflix, producing their own original series content has added further competition to the major networks.
Some media analysts believe that the network TV model of the 24 episode season running from September to May, with the break at the holidays and the traditional “sweeps” periods may be an outdated timetable.
The success of series in the summer months, such as the before mentioned “Under the Dome” further forces the analysts, the network executives, and the advertising industry to think about changes to the traditional model for broadcast television.
An economy still in recession, and the rising costs of other entertainment choices, left many families at home this summer which lead to a rise in TV viewership. Overall, the major networks all declined in ratings last year, especially in the key demographics, according to Nielsen. Each network has a different strategy to get their share of those viewers back.
The strategy at CBS is to stay with their lineup with minimal changes, they are the top broadcast channel by total viewership and their hit shows (NCIS, Two and a Half Men, The Big Bang Theory, The Good Wife, The Mentalist, Person of Interest, and The Amazing Race) are well known and well established shows.
The biggest new entry for the network is the return of Robin Williams to television in “The Crazy Ones” which they are heavily promoting. I think that the viewers are going to find the concept of the show as really underutilizing Williams’ acting talents, and the show will not be successful.
I will quantify that statement by reminding you that to be a successful new program at CBS you have to draw a huge number of viewers because they are the top network. It is easier to be a new show on a lower ranked network than to be a new show on the top network. CBS cancelled “Vegas” and it averaged 16 million viewers! That would be considered one of the best shows on one of the other major networks.
The strategy at NBC was detailed earlier, but the peacock network also wants to reclaim the Thursday night top comedy night spot from CBS. Their strategy to achieve this objective is to bring back Sean Hayes and Michael J. Fox to their own respective new comedy projects for primetime Thursday slots.
I believe that “The Michael J. Fox Show” will be a successful concept, but other critics think it will fail because it is a comedy that deals with Parkinson’s disease, which could be objectionable to some viewers. I think the very loyal fans of Mr. Fox will support the show and keep it on the airwaves.
I believe Mr. Hayes and his concept will be unsuccessful, and that NBC overall will still lose the Thursday night ratings war to CBS.
The strategy at ABC is to continue with their established programs (“Grey’s Anatomy”, “Once Upon A Time”, and “Modern Family”) while adding some new concepts such as: “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.”, “Once Upon a Time in Wonderland”, and “Betrayal”.
The critics are mostly not enthusiastic for the other new shows they plan to introduce, and I think that ABC has relied too heavily on the fantasy angle with “Once..”, and on shows with a great deal of negative plot lines such as “Revenge”, “Scandal”, and “Betrayal”.
In the end, the networks will be challenged by the changing demographics and how the average viewer uses various technologies to view TV programming and content. The main objective will be innovation, and some luck, which will determine which network will land the next “it” show concept like “Under the Dome”. We will know more by the mid-season point which network was successful in marketing that concept.