Red Nose Day 2018: Fighting Child Poverty

The annual event known as Red Nose Day will be held for the fourth time in the United States on Thursday, May 24th. The fundraising and awareness event seeks to combat the effects of child poverty both in the U.S. and throughout the world.

The entire day features activities aimed at connecting people to both the cause and to others within their respective communities. The goal being to raise funds for trusted partner organizations that work within our neighborhoods to provide food, medical care, and educational services to children in need.

The Red Nose Day fundraising special night of programming will air once again on NBC (for the fourth straight year) which will feature special editions of primetime programs similar to their approach last year. Then, at 10 PM Eastern/ 9 PM Central the Red Nose Day Special will air with Chris Hardwick hosting for the second consecutive year. The 2017 event raised $40 million according to the press release.

In the last three years the event has raised $100 million and helped over 8 million American children living in poverty. The event sponsors from last year have all renewed their commitments for 2018: Mars Wrigley Confectionary Company (M&Ms brand is a main sponsor), Walgreens, NBC, and The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Comic Relief USA is the non-profit organization behind the entire Red Nose Day operation, both in the United States, the United Kingdom, and throughout the world in 34 different countries.

This is the fourth straight year that this blog has dedicated a post for this event and that is because of the important group that it serves: children. The world is filled with disadvantaged, impoverished, and malnourished children. The streets are filled with homeless children with no means of supporting themselves.
The Red Nose campaign has provided 32 million meals to children in the United States, has provided care for 60,000 homeless children, and provided medical services to 6.7 million children globally.

The Red Nose campaign has been in existence since 1988 and continues to benefit programs in a focused and local level to reach children very effectively. The Walgreens partnership has been very strong in pushing the event to the American audience through signage in their retail pharmacy locations, their website, and through media buys in print, radio, as well as television.

Please check out home.rednoseday.org for more information about events in your local area on Thursday, May 24th. The NBC primetime special programs will air that evening culminating with the special celebrity-filled event hosted by Chris Hardwick.

Please consider donating either through the Red Nose Day website, at your local Walgreens, or during the live fundraising event on Thursday night on your local NBC affiliate.

Your donation will go toward helping the most vulnerable within our population: children. Thank you for your support of this wonderful fundraising effort.

Red Nose Day: Team Up To End Child Poverty

The third annual Red Nose Day takes place today, May 25th, focusing on raising both money and awareness to the devastating effects of child poverty. The event is sponsored by several companies, notably the ubiquitous American drug store chain, Walgreens.

The fundraising telethon and special program about Red Nose Day airs again this year on NBC. However, the network will take a different approach this year with a special celebrity edition of American Ninja Warrior (8 PM, EST) then a special Running Wild With Bear Grylls where Julia Roberts will join Grylls on a trek across Kenya to deliver vaccines to sick children (9 PM, EST) , and then will air the Red Nose Day Special hosted by Chris Hardwick which features appearances by several A-list comedians and musicians (10 PM, EST).

The first two editions of this event NBC have run a special 3-hour telethon type program with performances, comedians, and clips from the field in Developing World nations as well as economically depressed areas in the United States. This will be the first year that regular series programs have been dedicated as special features to raise money for this crucially important cause.

Red Nose Day began originally in the United Kingdom, and has spread to include events throughout the world which have raised $1 billion so far for children’s poverty. The funds are funneled to trusted partner organizations, some of the most recognizable and trusted non-profit charities in the world.

The money raised in the American version of this fundraising event has benefitted children in every state in our country as well as children in about 25 other countries throughout the globe. The American event has raised $60 million since it began in 2015.
Walgreens is a prominent sponsor of the event along with their subsidiary Duane Reade pharmacies, which have a huge presence in major East Coast cities especially New York City. Those retail pharmacy locations in both chains sell red noses for $1 and offer at point of sale the ability for the customer to donate to the effort.

The difference can be made without a huge donation, any amount will help children who are living in poverty both in America and throughout the world. I have covered Red Nose Day for the past three years, it is an amazing event that makes a huge impact. I have worked in the non-profit sector and I have worked as an independent writer with non-profit organizations, and this type of event will instantly help them to have the funding capability to help so many children in need.

A donation as small as $10 can help fund after school programs. A donation of $30 could help bring water to a village in the Developing World. It is in the small steps that a journey is completed.

Some of you may recall the excursion that actor Jack Black took for Red Nose Day to Africa, where the young boy there asks him to bring him back to America with him. That was a poignant scene, the boy was in poor health and malnourished. Then last year, the viewers got the update that the boy had been adopted and sponsored by an American family and was in school and well cared for, it is an incredible testimonial to the power of this event to change lives.

In a world marked lately by some terrible and terrifying events, this is one way where we can join together and change the narrative. This is one way where we can make a difference and do something positive to lift the spirits of the most vulnerable in our society, children living in poverty. I hope you will consider a donation to Red Nose Day.

Please visit https://rednoseday.org/donate-splash to learn more about this remarkable event that helps so many children. Please tune in to NBC tonight for all the special programs they have starting at 8 PM (Eastern). Please consider helping this cause to change and save the lives of those children in need. Thank you for your support and attention. May God bless you.

Recapping The Upfronts: TV Networks – Fall Lineups

The major television networks met with all of the major advertising companies this week in an annual event in the industry known as the “upfronts”. The tradition holds that NBC has the first meeting, followed usually by ABC, CBS had their turn on Wednesday, the end of the week featured FOX and The CW getting their respective meetings.

The upfront meeting is where each network will officially unveil their fall lineups and try to generate interest and energy around their programming. These presentations have always been intriguing to me because each network has a strategy for capturing viewers and each one is different in that approach.

Some networks try to reinvent themselves more often than others do, and right now the changes to the television landscape have pushed the major networks and their subsidiaries into recalibrating their offerings. The scramble for ad dollars is characteristically a highly competitive situation, and this week was no different.

First, NBC entered the upfront meetings with the top-rated show on TV (“This Is Us”) and the top ranking for the coveted advertising demographic of 18-25 year old viewers. The network had to just make some small lineup tweaks and they should be set up to have another strong year. They moved their top show to Thursday nights, which is what NBC does, when a program goes well, they change the time slot instead of leaving it alone. It remains to be seen whether this will have a positive or negative ratings effect.

The “Peacock” is bringing back a former hit show from the ‘90s, “Will & Grace” for a limited run, and it will be very interesting to see how they tie this show to a new fan base as well as appeal to the fans who remember the show from the first run. The network is trying to inject excitement back into Thursday nights, which used to be called Must See TV by their marketing team. However, the reality is that “appointment TV” where people looked forward to a program with anticipation and were there every week to watch it, is long gone. I am interested to see how the viewers react to the new Thursday lineup, and whether NBC put their eggs in the right basket.

The last bastion for viewing trends similar to the old glory days of television remains live events such as award shows as well as live sports programming. NBC will have the return of NFL football games on Thursday nights (split package with CBS) and on Sunday nights (the entire NFL season). The Sunday night primetime game is consistently a ratings winner for NBC as well as a robust advertising revenue driver for the network.

The NFL ratings dropped for the first time in several years in 2016, but it still garners tremendous viewership and appeals to key advertising demographics, so the live game broadcasts will still command large committed ad spending.

NBC has very few new show concepts that I read in the reviews from media/TV critics that are worth mentioning. They will focus their marketing and promotional efforts on a special series they produced on the Menendez brothers case. That limited run special will air in the 10 PM slot (Eastern) for set number of weeks.

The executives at ABC will attempt to address sagging ratings overall from the 2016 television programming year by cancelling underperforming shows. They will look to reinvigorate their lineup with new series concepts of all kinds, from comedies to procedural dramas. The trick up the sleeve for this network was a surprise announcement at their upfront that they had given the approval for a straight to series new concept from Shonda Rhymes (Grey’s Anatomy founder) which focuses on a group of Seattle firefighters.

Then, ABC announced that they will also ride the trend of bringing back old shows for limited run type reboots. The network will bring in Roseanne which at one point in the original run was the top-rated show in America. I am fascinated to see how this concept will connect with new fans and younger age groups.

The network also will bring back another former ratings institution, American Idol which has been given mixed reactions from both media analysts and fans of the program alike. It remains to be seen whether the singing contest style can recapture its former glory. The details on the show remain limited with the only piece of news considered significant is that pop singing star, Katy Perry, has signed on to be a judge on the rebooted version of the once stalwart hit program.

It remains to be seen whether Ryan Seacrest will return to host Idol which films primarily in Los Angeles. Seacrest has recently joined the ABC morning talk hit show Live as Kelly Ripa’s new co-host, and that show films in New York. The logistics could be worked out, but it merits watching which path those negotiations could take.

CBS opened their upfront meeting with a performance from Stephen Colbert, who now has the top rated late night slot in the industry. The decision making by CBS and the other networks as well, as far as cancelled and returning shows are concerned was all studio/content rights driven.

The revenues in television have changed with production costs still rising and other revenue falling due to changes in the way the viewer engages with content (i.e. streaming, video on demand). In that regard, CBS proposed changes to the advertising packages which were originally structured around a 3-day window (Live+3) to a (Live +7) cycle or a 7-day window for the ads to run in association with a specific advertising “buy”.

I have covered in the past the decisions on cancelled and renewed programs, and it mainly comes down to rights fees, licensing, and ownership of the content. In short, each respective network tends to renew content that is made in their own studio compared to an outside studio. This is due to the fact that the network owns the backend rights to that content, which has become more valuable than the frontend rights to the program at this point.

CBS used this rationale to explain the cancellation of 2 Broke Girls (produced by Warner Brothers) and the renewal of Elementary (produced by CBS Studios) even though the former had slightly better ratings than Johnny Lee Miller’s turn at the iconic role of Sherlock Holmes. This same rationale was used to explain the cancellation of Person of Interest (Warner Brothers studios) and keeping Elementary because CBS could make more money on the backend rights.

ABC took some heat for cancelling Last Man Standing but it was produced by an outside studio, and they would rather renew and promote a comedy series produced in their own studio because of the enhanced revenue streams it would provide to offset the production costs and licensing fees.

The major networks are also pursuing a trend where they will change the terms of a licensing agreement on a show from an outside studio production company. The networks have been seeking larger pieces of the revenue pie before agreeing to renew a program. That trend will continue as the viewership habits continue to evolve away from live viewing and into watching the content after it originally airs.

CBS has very few new shows and will juggle a lineup of hit shows as well as NFL football and the top-rated shows in several categories will return to a largely unchanged lineup from last year. They will also introduce a rebooted version of S.W.A.T. (originally aired in the 1970s) and the highly anticipated spinoff from The Big Bang Theory entitled: Young Sheldon.

Fox ordered just six new shows for the Fall, and have moved around most of the returning shows in their lineup, keeping just Sunday night’s lineup intact from last year. They will also feature rebooted series from the past with The X Files returning for a limited series run, Prison Break returning for an undetermined amount of new shows, and a revival of Showtime at The Apollo hosted by Steve Harvey.

The CW announced both new concepts for series programming and a new focus on being a multi-channel partner rather than just a television network. They are taking a more forward thinking approach with partnerships with Apple TV, Roku, Amazon, and other streaming video content providers. This is to capitalize on the revenue for the back-end rights to the programming. This traditionally fifth place network also announced a rebooted series concept of their own, Dynasty, which has earned some industry buzz already.

The upfronts represented a continuation of declining advertising revenue in the form of ad buys as the cost/benefit analysis of that form of advertising is being weighed against the changing trends in the way that viewers obtain content. It is always interesting to see which strategies the networks employ to promote their programming, and which of those programs will make the cut when the first sweeps period is considered.

The ways of viewing television have changed and the ways that networks are approaching the production and promotion of their programming has followed suit. These trends will continue as we enter the 2017-18 television calendar, stay tuned.

Fall TV Season Reviews: Six Weeks In

The Fall television season is about six weeks into the schedule and with a review of the ratings to this point. I have done this the last few television seasons and reviewed ratings at the sweeps periods, and I have had some time for late night viewing of some shows on demand or via streaming services as well.

Those of you who have kept up with my blog here at Frank’s Forum are aware that I am not usually a fan of many of the new shows on the network slates in any given year. There have been a handful of shows that I would even recommend that any of you devote any of your valuable time to watching and following on a routine basis.

However, this season I am surprised that there are a few shows that have exceeded my expectations out of the gate. There are others that I have not seen but have read reviews from other writers whom I trust and have analyzed their ratings to know that they will most likely be cancelled.

No Bull

The first new show that I would recommend watching if you have not done so already is the CBS drama, Bull, starring Michael Weatherly of NCIS fame. I read a review of the show before it aired which was not very favorable, so I approached the pilot episode (which my wife really pushed me to watch) with trepidation.

I was pleasantly surprised, Weatherly is excellent as Dr. Jason Bull (a character adapted and based on the early life of Dr. Phil McGraw) who is an expert psychologist in the field of reading jury reactions in court proceedings. The cases are very interesting and thought provoking, the human behavior aspects are fascinating at points, and the cast is very strong. It is a very likeable show that will definitely entertain and is the character development, the writing, and the production are all excellently done. CBS has averaged around 17 million viewers and it is the top new show of the season for a reason, this program is poised to be another major hit for that network.

NBC Strikes Gold

I must admit that when I saw the trailer for the newest NBC drama, This Is Us, I thought it was a hastily produced fill-in for Parenthood which NBC ushered out of the lineup after a very strong multi-season run. However, this program written by Dan Fogelman is brilliant in the conception and the direction of the character arcs.

In an innovative way (without giving anything away to those who have not watched) it follows the lives of several people all at the same stage in life (mid 30s) and chronicles the unique challenges, joys, and heartaches that each has at that particular point.

The stories are woven seamlessly into themed episodes and the acting is excellent from Mandy Moore, Milo Ventimiglia, and the rest of the outstanding cast that makes this show the second most watched new series and a bona fide hit for NBC.

The only thing that could derail the momentum of this show (which has a massive social media following) is NBC getting involved from a top executive level and making changes to the creative direction or moving the time slot of the show (which that network does often) and it ends up ending in a loss of ratings.

This show is raw and real and very well produced, the writing is excellent, and it is well worth your viewing time.

Designated for Success

The ABC hit drama Designated Survivor looks like it is designated for a successful run on the network after very strong ratings to this point in the new television season. This newly launched show features Keifer Sutherland as the top billed star and the lone surviving Cabinet level official following a terror attack on the Capitol building during the State of the Union address.

I must admit two things: I did not like the premise of the show and the events that precipitate the conditions which the plot line launches, and I have not actually seen this program I have just read some very strong reviews about it.

I would think that it would have to appeal to those who like suspense and government spy type concepts to be the captive viewer for this program. I would tend to be of the opinion that if the ratings are this strong it is usually worth viewing the pilot episode and making a decision from there about it.

Kevin Can Wait

The new Kevin James comedy concept from CBS titled Kevin Can Wait has garnered some pretty strong ratings numbers despite being positioned to the male viewing demographic on Monday nights (opposite Monday Night Football).
In my opinion, the show has always struck me as a retread of the same antics that Mr. James used in his prior TV series hit, The King of Queens. I know that he has a loyal following of fans, but I personally think that you can wait on watching this series for the time being.

MacGyver It

I remember the original version of MacGyver and all of the wild scenarios that the lead character would get himself out of by coming up with some hair brained solution using normal items you would find around your house or garage.

The new CBS reboot which comes under the production guidance of Peter Lenkov (one of the guys who rebooted Hawaii 50 for CBS with great success) but the lead guy, Lucas Til, does not have the right look to be taken seriously as the new MacGyver.

The show has gained a pretty significant rating (the fifth most watched new series) but they will be walking the line between edge of the seat action and completely nonsensical, over the top stunts that could eventually drive away viewers.

Leaking Oil

Several returning shows are losing viewers like a truck leaking oil. The notables among those are two ABC programs Quantico and MARVEL Agents of Shield which will both probably meet with cancellation soon. In fact, ABC has another problem with a new series called Notorious (which is filling a lineup slot while Scandal is on hiatus due to Kerry Washington being pregnant) where the network announced they cut the number of episodes that will air already due to sagging ratings.

The TV industry calls that type of order reduction a quasi-cancellation, and so that series is definitely not worth your time.

The once popular series, How to Get Away with Murder has taken a tremendous decline in viewership this season to the point where it will most certainly be designated for cancellation in the near future.

The ABC network ratings overall have taken a big hit in a declining manner. They have to hope for stalwarts like Greys Anatomy and Modern Family to keep the ratings curve from bottoming out until they can begin production again on Scandal. The network will most assuredly also have a number of mid-year concepts that they will roll out in the winter for testing which could help buoy the ratings tide.

Deflated Ratings

The NFL once dealt with a major issue surrounding deflated footballs, it now has an issue with deflated ratings. The once gigantic ratings producing machine that was live NFL football game broadcasts are no longer the market leader they once were.

The NBC Sunday Night Football telecast was consistently the highest rated program of the week nearly every week that it aired for years. The telecast has experienced double digit ratings losses in 2016. There are some news media sources that track the ratings decline and tie it to the huge ratings that Sunday evening cable news programs are drawing due to the November Presidential election.

The other main national television “windows” for NFL broadcasts are down as well, Thursday Night Football is usually a reliable to be among the top five programs in the week and sometimes will crack the top three in the ratings charts. This season that package of games has also seen a double digit decline in ratings. This is driven by two factors: the matchups for the teams in most of the games have not been compelling, and the national anthem protests have also hurt the ratings for football overall as well.

The ESPN tradition of Monday Night Football has taken the most precipitous decline with viewership of their telecasts off as much as 25% from last season. That is a steep decline for a live sports content product as highly desirable as the NFL usually commands within the television industry. The biggest issue for this telecast and the other national television windows for the league is that the advertisers shell out some serious money for featured commercial time on these live game telecasts. The NFL ratings dip is cause for concern because they might hit the “giveback” territory in the numbers, where the advertising dollars get returned to the sponsors if the ratings decline to a certain threshold.

This type of scenario would impact the networks which pay huge rights fees to the NFL to broadcast the games. The league office in New York is reviewing the ratings decline, but it is certainly something fascinating because the numbers were once off the charts and now they have hit the wall.

Some of you may recall the piece I wrote on the oversaturation of the NFL on television. I wrote, once upon a time, about whether the league had reached a point where there were just too many games on TV and the impact that oversaturation would have on the ratings. It seems like we may have hit that point now.

The television season is still in the early stages, we have February “sweeps” and May “sweeps” periods left to go before all is said and done. We also have an election night in 12 days, and the holidays with specials and movies on the horizon. The networks have some shows they will keep for years, and others they will dump after a month or two. The major networks are split with CBS and NBC doing very well in overall ratings, while ABC, FOX, and the CW are in a ratings plummet that seems to get deeper by the week.

It will be interesting to see when we check in again around The Super Bowl and February sweeps, until then, stay tuned and keep streaming!

Busy Signal: AT&T and Time Warner Proposed Merger

The news today of a potential merger between two giants in the media industry: AT&T and Time Warner brought with it both a wave of enthusiasm and skepticism in the financial markets and the multimedia/telecommunications industry. The enthusiasm was demonstrated on Wall Street, where Time Warner stock trading surged, with their stock price up around 13% at one point in today’s activity.

The skepticism comes on the part of some consumer groups who are concerned about what this merger might mean for costs of internet access, cellular phone and data plans, and satellite television services (AT&T merged with Direct TV previously). There is also some legitimate cause for regulators to reject this deal, so there is some caution in the industry that this merger may eventually come apart.

The proposed deal includes Time Warner’s film division and cable television division which includes channels such as TBS, TNT, CNN, as well as the crown jewel of premium cable networks, HBO. The deal is valued, according to sources, at $300 billion. It would be the largest merger in the media industry since Comcast completed the acquisition of NBC/Universal in 2011.

This trend would continue what I have deemed in other mergers as the “big getting bigger” scenario. Time Warner is a huge company with many different divisions and huge market presence in media of all forms. AT&T has a market cap of $233 billion and provides cellular phone, internet, telecommunications, and satellite television services to millions of consumers. The combined entity would be a goliath capable of competing with Comcast/Universal, which I maintain is one of the goals of this move today.

The trend of the average consumer looking to cut out their cable television service, or “cord cutting” as it is known, is something I have written about in the past, and it is an increasing trend. This trend is damaging the cable television providers and the cable networks from making revenue gains. This has particularly impacted Time Warner’s cable services division, and made this potential merger a way to partner with a larger company to expand their reach.

The trend toward streaming content is also a driving factor in this proposed merger, as AT&T has been actively pursuing the development of their own streaming content service which would be offered via the Direct TV platform. The combination with Time Warner would provide AT&T with more advantageous content streaming negotiations because they would be better positioned to control the content from TBS, TNT, CNN, and most importantly, HBO.

HBO has top rated content that is sought after by competing streaming services and cable and telco providers. This would put AT&T in the proverbial driver’s seat of those negotiations, but is the same reason why regulatory boards will have issues with this deal.

The Wall Street Journal reported that regulators have some regrets over the Comcast merger with NBC/Universal which they do not want to have repeated by this potential media industry transaction. The Time Warner properties in the cable network division also have exclusive rights (or partial exclusive rights) to sports content such as the NCAA Tournament in college basketball, NBA basketball games both regular season and playoffs, and Major League baseball both regular season and playoff games. This made the deal more attractive for AT&T because of the demand for live sports programming, but it will also make the regulatory scrutiny that much more heightened because that content is meant to be seen by everyone and not meant to be restricted to only certain providers.

This proposed merger, should it gain approval, would give AT&T a huge advantage in providing streaming content for their cellular phones and their new service with Direct TV customers. It would provide Time Warner with more outlets for their content and more consumers in parts of the country which they could not reach with their traditional cable television services. It would offset the loss of cable television consumers through the streaming rights agreements for their content that they will gain through millions of AT&T customers.

However, in the end, this media giant would have more control over more content and that should give both the industry and the consumer cause for concern. This merger should be stopped because it will provide too much control to one corporation, we saw what happened with Comcast and NBC, we cannot afford to let that happen again.

(background information and stats courtesy of CNBC, The Wall Street Journal, and CBS News)

“Must See TV” – NBC Gains Rights to Thursday Night Football

In reading the news earlier this week that the NFL had reached agreement on a new television contract for the Thursday Night package of games and that the rights to those games would be split between CBS and NBC; I could not help but think that NBC finally could reclaim their lost title of “Must See TV” for that night of the week.

 

I remember growing up that NBC owned the ratings on Thursday night, which continued into my high school and college years as well when the network cranked out new episodes of shows like “Friends” . Then later still it was “The Office” and a decent comedy lineup that anchored Thursday nights on “The Peacock” network.

 

However, that all changed for the network TV landscape with the advent of streaming devices and services such as Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Direct that made live television viewing a concept of the past. The busy nature of people’s lives coupled with the fact that nobody works from 9 to 5 anymore, fueled that change towards the way we watch television.

 

The lone exception, as I have written about previously, is live sports programming. The ratings for sporting events of essentially any kind are “ratings gold” for the network which holds the broadcasting rights. The NFL takes this trend and puts it into essentially a “five times multiplier” with nearly all the top 10 most watched “programs” on TV in 2015 being NFL football games.

 

The ratings bonanza surrounding NFL games makes the addition of the Thursday Night Football package by NBC even more influential to advertising revenue and sponsorships that the network can attract. The network can also utilize “drop ins” to promote their own programs and events that are upcoming to a huge and diversified audience. NBC already receives a tremendous ratings boost through their agreement to broadcast Sunday Night Football which frequently is either the top watched program of a given week or in the top three spots. That ratings jump has boosted their overall viewership levels in the past and the promotional aspects of that broadcast have definitely had an impact on the ratings of their other programs.

 

Steep Price

 

NBC and CBS paid a steep price for the rights to broadcast five Thursday Night NFL games each over the next two seasons ($450 million combined between the two networks per year) which demonstrates the amazing draw that NFL live games have on advertising revenue for the networks.

 

In the case of NBC, they have been struggling to rebrand Thursday nights to compete with CBS and the other networks. They needed this share of the NFL package much more than CBS did, as CBS is the most watched network in terms of total viewership. Then, on the other hand, the fact that CBS has over the past two years pre-empted their regular Thursday night programming (in the Fall sweeps period no less) for NFL football demonstrates the enormous draw of the NFL. The shows in the regular CBS Thursday night lineup generate rating numbers that other networks can only dream about, yet CBS is committed to expanding their relationship with the NFL on that weeknight for two more years.

 

I must admit that following the ratings and the world of both media and sports business related topics, I did not initially understand why CBS would have paid the broadcasting rights fees that they shelled out for the Thursday night games initially two years ago. However, over time, I understood what the NFL and CBS were looking to do and subsequently accomplished with that initial contract. The league realized that the Thursday night games could be an attractive package to sell separately while keeping those games on NFL Network. They also identified a need to provide better promotion to both the games and the broadcast itself to make them look and feel like a “stand alone property”.

 

The addition of CBS Sports to that mix accomplished all of those objectives. The Thursday night games received an enhanced production value from CBS as well as their top announcing team of Jim Nantz and Phil Simms (who will continue to work those games in the new contract) CBS created theme music for the Thursday night telecast and cross-promoted the package very well to appeal to a wider audience.

 

Now, the Thursday night package will take another step in the evolution with the addition of NBC to the fold, and the NFL will gain viewers from cross-promotion efforts on NBC programming. In addition, NBC will most assuredly use their Sunday Night Football platform to promote the upcoming Thursday Night game so that will be a very effective marketing tool.

 

Streaming Sold Separately

 

The NFL also announced that with this new Thursday night television package they would be selling the rights to stream the games over the internet separately. The streaming capability was an aspect that both CBS and NBC were hoping would be included in their contract so that they could gain additional revenue from advertising on that platform.

 

The NFL will now begin negotiations for the streaming rights to the Thursday night games with the obvious players being mentioned in reports: Yahoo!, You Tube, Facebook, and Amazon. The NFL partnered with Yahoo! during the 2015 regular season to stream one of the games played in London between two subpar teams, the Buffalo Bills and the Jacksonville Jaguars, and the experiment was a huge success. It remains to be seen if the recent issues surrounding Yahoo! and their announced plans to cut jobs and shut down certain areas of their business will impact these negotiations. It also bears watching if Verizon will make an attempt to purchase the internet search giant outright (Verizon and the NFL have an exclusive agreement to show live local games on Verizon supported devices).

 

The recent Thursday night NFL broadcasting deal made two things clear: live sports programming is the gold standard which is keeping both network and cable television relevant, and that NBC finally has something deemed as “Must See TV” at least for five weeks out of the year.

Fear Factor: The Depressing Nature of the News Cycle

The mainstream news media has motivated viewership through fear for a long time now. Those who took any communications courses in college like I did could tell you that the fear driven news cycle is mass media 101 methodology. However, lately I have observed that it is getting worse, the constant litany of news stories consisting of nothing but tragedy, war, violence, murder, and disasters of all types is becoming increasingly common.

 

The once tried and true strategy of using fear as the motivator for the viewership ratings of news broadcasts and on-line “click counts” may be backfiring. In my own experience I have overheard others discussing the “depressing” nature of the news cycle. I have also been told directly by friends, colleagues, family members, and other associates that the news is “too sad or too upsetting” to watch with regularity.

 

The fast paced nature of our social media driven society and the plethora of entertainment options as well as the numerous methods we can obtain news related information has a direct correlation to this change in perception of the traditional news media.

 

The mainstream news outlets such as CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC have continued to function in the format habit of drilling the same few stories into the minds of the viewer. Several people have commented to me that they are actually depressed or anxious because of the way those outlets have covered stories such as ISIS, Ebola, and the state of the global economy.

 

In a world that is seemingly coming apart at the seams, the average person is seeking some comfort and hope. In a world where they get news alerts buzzing into their cell phone or flashing on the screens of their laptop or tablet, they do not need to be reminded that there are some evil people, horrible diseases, or discouraging economic data gripping the international community. They are aware of it, and most average people are seeking an escape from it in larger numbers.

 

Mass Migration

 

It is this functional imperative to escape the incessant drone of the negative news cycle that has given rise to the phenomenon of viewership ratings spikes for some other trends in television and media such as reality television, competition shows, and sports related programming.

 

I know people in my own circles that would not fit the mold of the traditional sports viewer, people who at one point in time watched news programs such as 60 Minutes, 20/20, or Dateline but because of the negative and depressing aspects of the news coverage they no longer watch those programs. Instead, they watch only sports on television particularly live sporting events such as the NFL or the NBA games.

 

It is no wonder why the ratings for live sporting events are off the charts, some of this viewership activity is a direct result from the news media driving the viewer to find other more uplifting programming choices. Most people are seeking a distraction from the problems and drudgery of everyday life, and the news cycle is only serving to be a constant reminder of the harshness and cruelty of our society.

 

In some of my own journalism work I have received positive feedback for telling stories that raise awareness of an issue, yet provide hope that our society is capable of better behavior. This is lacking in the coverage of the news in the current cycle format utilized by the major outlets. It is no surprise that the cable networks set up for 24 hour news have seen their overall ratings decline. The lone exception to this rule, Fox News, has seen ratings growth, but it should be noted that it is in demographics where people still watch the news. The younger demographics tend to use the internet or social media to find the news that is of interest to them.

 

Some of those networks, such as CNN, are embracing a trend in television by announcing the introduction of more original series programming than traditional news broadcasts or talk show format programs. The new concept called “The Wonder List” with veteran newscaster Bill Weir is the latest project approved by CNN in a reorganization of the formatting of the network.

 

Even the major networks (NBC, ABC, and CBS) have seen changes in the ratings for their news broadcasts and news related programming in primetime. It is all about adaptation and what these networks are learning is that in a time where everything is about customization, the mainstream news broadcast lacks the impact it once had over the viewer.

 

The advent of Twitter, Facebook, and other social media sites as outlets for gathering customized news feeds that are relevant to the individual user have phased out the traditional news broadcast. The networks have to figure out a way to relate to the average viewer, particularly the younger viewer, without losing their “bread and butter” demographic: the viewer over the age of 55.

 

Custom Fit

 

The customization of “news feeds” tailored to the unique interests of the individual user have become the new standard for the way we gather information via the internet and social media platforms. This custom fit approach allows for the user also to gain insight into non-mainstream issues or news pieces that feature something that is rare in the mass market news: hope.

 

Our society needs hope now more than ever before, but the mainstream media seems to have disconnected from that entirely and continues to follow the drumbeat of fear and panic in the stories they cover. The constant reminders of the tyrannical and barbaric behaviors of ISIS or the next potential Ebola case in a big metropolitan area such as New York City, are all too upsetting for most viewers at this point.

 

In fairness, the major networks do feature human interest stories and other pieces which cover more benign topics. They also lend coverage to stories of empowerment or hope in various segments, but these are the exception and not the rule. The ABC evening news broadcast will achieve this by their “Person of the Week” segment and they deliver in a mass appeal piece called “Made in America” a series about American products manufacturing. The CBS evening news broadcast has uplifting features such as “On the Road” where they highlight the contribution of regular Americans doing extraordinary actions.

 

In addition, I would be remiss if I did not include the success of NBC Nightly News which is the only evening newscast to grow their audience. It is the most watched news broadcast in the U.S. for the past 10 years, according to Nielsen, and NBC averages 9.3 million viewers which is approximately 1 million more than the second place ABC newscast with David Muir. They obviously have determined a way to connect with some key viewer demographics, but the younger generations still gravitate toward other outlets to find the news that matters to them on an individual basis.

 

The NBC podcast is a good example of taking a traditional format and placing it into a modern technological delivery system. It has helped NBC connect with segments of the public who are non-traditional TV news viewers. I believe those types of innovations will continue in order for the mainstream news media to keep pace with the fast pace of the internet new feeds, providing information available to the public across several platforms.

 

Next Page

 

Even the internet news sources are not immune to this backlash by the public over the fear inciting news coverage on their sites. I have overheard people while in waiting rooms at the doctor, while getting my haircut, or waiting in line at a grocery store checkout line express upset feelings over what appears on the internet news.

 

However, the internet news coverage is different than a traditional live TV newscast for the obvious reason that the user on the internet can just click onto another link and not read a full news story on the Middle East, Korean tensions, or ISIS violence. I call it the “next page” phenomenon, others have different names for it, but the concept is the same: freedom of choice.

 

I wrote at one point for a large internet based news platform until they disbanded their freelance news contribution area. This organization used to measure not only the “click count” for a respective news story, but also the amount of time the average reader spent on the page. The goal being to avoid the “next page” scenario with the reader. I was fascinated when I would get the monthly reports to find out which stories held the attention of the reader and which pieces did not.

 

In the end, the executives in charge of media companies have to understand that the American public is generally tired of the continuous stream of upsetting news flooding our televisions, computers, tablets, and smart phones. I understand that they have to report on what is happening in the world, and that at some points those stories are not easy to see or to read. They would provide themselves and the public some welcome relief if they started to intersperse some stories of hope and perseverance. Those stories are out there, and they are easier to find than it may seem.

 

 

(Statistics and ratings courtesy of Nielsen, demographic data courtesy of TVWire, and some background information courtesy of the Associated Press)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Summer TV Heats Up: Broadcast TV Ratings Review

The summer television season in the United States was once a barren terrain consisting of re-broadcasted programming from the main television ratings “sweeps periods”, also known as “reruns”. It has also been a time for some limited engagement mini-series type events, and when I was a child I remember ABC TV out of New York running children’s movies in primetime slots during the summer months. The other broadcast channels would use the primetime slots to broadcast “second run movies” during the week, and especially on Saturday nights from May through early September.

 

That dynamic then changed slightly to a situation where the “Big Four” networks (later adding CW Network, Univision, and My Network Television) would be comfortable in conceding the summer months to the cable networks. They would let the cable networks dominate the ratings without putting much effort into production of any new programming options.

 

Eventually, due to the growth of cable and satellite television providers, and the advent of internet streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon; the major networks decided to become real competitive players in the once dormant summer broadcasting period.

 

Summer Ratings Heat Up

 

The decision by the “Big Four” broadcasters (plus the CW network which skews towards the key summer demographic: kids, tweens, teens, and young adults all home from school) has created a scenario where the summer TV ratings and subsequent advertising dollars are becoming a growing ancillary revenue stream for the networks.

The timing of the decision about 4 years ago was right too, Americans were caught in the grip of an economic recession. Many families were forced to forego their usual summer vacation plans, and very hot periods of weather in the summer of 2010 and 2011 kept people indoors which drove up television viewership levels.

 

Each of the “Big Four” networks have, over the course of the past two to three years, developed their own “mainstay” show which drives their summer programming. Currently, it is 12 weeks into the summer television season (which begins the day after the May sweeps period ends) so I thought it would be an ideal time to review the ratings for this summer.

 

First, some background on each network and their approach to summer programming:

  • NBC – their approach at “the Peacock” to the summer months centers around two programs: America’s Got Talent (A.G.T.) and Night Shift. They run the A.G.T. talent search program on two nights: Tuesday (new content) and Wednesday (the results show). The show has been a huge success for the network and is a family friendly show which is appealing in the summer.
  • CBS – they bank their success on science fiction type programming to capture the interest of the crucial 18-49 ratings demographic with Under The Dome (which set summer ratings records for them in 2013) and a new program featuring Academy Award winning actress, Halle Berry, called Extant. The strategy at CBS, like everything else they do lately, has been very successful. Extant has the best ratings of any new show this summer. Then the long time mainstay program The Big Brother reality series came from out of nowhere to outperform expectations and become a huge hit for the network this summer.
  • ABC – the summer season is jump started by the NBA Finals with live sports television being the new gold standard for television ratings. This summer’s edition of basketball’s biggest series provided a huge ratings boost to the network with a 6.1 rating and a 20 share in the 18-49 demo per Nielsen. Then in mid-June (the NBA Finals ended on Father’s Day) the network shifts to their other summer centerpiece The Bachelor/Bachelorette reality series depending on where they are in that cycle. The summer of 2014 brought a Bachelorette series into the mix which ended up being the 8th most watched program in total viewers and made it into the Top 10 at the 10th spot of top ratings for the 18-49 age group with a 2.07 Nielsen rating.
  • FOX – their strategy was to reintroduce a short series run of their one-time hit show 24 starring Kiefer Sutherland, called 24 Live Another Day which is an action/suspense thriller type program. The strategy worked with the program in the Top 5 for overall viewers this summer. Their other featured summer program is the cooking competition series with the volatile and unpredictable celebrity chef Gordon Ramsey titled Master Chef.

 

Summer TV: By the Numbers

 

After 12 weeks, the summer TV ratings have solidified to the point where some finite results can be determined. The ratings from Nielsen are based on the total of 115.6 million television households in the United States with a single ratings point representing 1% or 1.156 million households tuned to the program. The share is the percentage of all the televisions in use during that time slot which are tuned to a specific program. In the most recent data from Nielsen, the ratings breakdown is as follows:

 

Total Ratings by Network:

  • ABC and NBC are tied at the top of the leader board in the total ratings with a 1.4 and a 5 share in the 18-49 demographic. However NBC has the edge between the two in total viewers with 5.48 million compared to ABC with 5.1 million – both figures for both respective networks are down 7% from last summer.
  • FOX is in third place, just barely, with a 1.2 rating and a 4 share of the 18-49 demographic which is down 14% from last summer.
  • CBS is in fourth place with a 1.1 rating and a 4 share of 18-49 which is down 8% from the summer of 2013. The silver lining is that CBS averages 5.83 million primetime viewers this summer, which demonstrates the trend of older viewers who tend to be loyal to the network.
  • CW Network (joint venture between CBS and Warner Brothers) is last with a 0.3 rating and 1 share of 18-49. However their total viewership number is 7% higher than last summer.

 

Top Shows by Total Viewers

 

  1. America’s Got Talent (Tuesday) =         12.5 million average
  2. America’s Got Talent (Wednesday)=   10.3 million average
  3. Under The Dome    =                                  10.1 million average
  4. Extant                        =                                  9 million average (best new show)
  5. 24: Live Another Day        =                      8.55 million average
  6. Night Shift                            =                      8.3 million average
  7. Unforgettable                     =                      7.65 million average
  8. Bachelorette                        =                      7.35 million average
  9. Big Brother  (Sunday)       =                      7 million average
  10.  Big Brother (Wednesday) =                   7 million average

 

Top Shows in 18-49 demographic

The following are the top shows in the 18-49 demographic which is important to note because while another show might have more total viewers, the shows that rank highly in this list can charge more for advertising time which generates more revenue for the network.  This list is calculated by overall 18-49 group rating:

 

  1. America’s Got Talent (Tuesday) = 3.1
  2. Big Brother (Thursday) =                            2.49
  3. Big Brother (Sunday) =                  2.45
  4. Big Brother (Wednesday) =         2.43
  5. Under the Dome =                         2.43
  6. 24: Live Another Day =                2.39
  7. America’s Got Talent (Wed.) =    2.38
  8. Master Chef =                                 2.31
  9. Hell’s Kitchen =                               2.16
  10.  Bachelorette =                               2.07
  11.  American Ninja Warrior =         1.92
  12.  So You Think You Can Dance=  1.84
  13.  Night Shift =                                   1.83
  14.  Extant =                                           1.68

 

Analysis

 

The cursory review of these results provides apparent conclusions on the demographics of certain programs. A show such as Big Brother is at the bottom of the Top 10 in overall viewers, yet it compromises the second, third, and fourth place slots in the 18-49 demographic which aptly reflects the younger audience for the program.

 

Stephen King’s science fiction concept, Under the Dome, is third in overall viewers with a whopping 10.1 million viewers for a summer show, but it ranks 5th in the 18-49 demo with a 2.43 rating. That reflects two issues, a stronger viewership in older viewers which is interesting given the content of the show, and a loss in viewers that is trending downward. The show has been killing off popular cast members, causing some viewers, my wife and I included, to discontinue viewership of the program.

 

The reboot of Jack Bauer’s character in 24: Live Another Day is 5th in overall viewers and 6th in 18-49 aged viewers which demonstrates the appeal to that demographic almost exclusively.

The ABC reality series The Bachelorette, is 8th in total viewers and 10th in the 18-49 category proving that the program appeals to a range of audiences including an older audience of people over 50. This series is the only top 10 program for ABC and it hurts the network because they cannot sell advertising time for the show anywhere near the rates that the other 3 networks can command.  NBC has A.G.T. which is the top show in 18-49 ratings, CBS has Big Brother which is a powerhouse show for the target demographic as well as Under The Dome, and FOX has 24 which is 6th in the coveted 18-49 ratings.

 

Finally, the group of shows Extant, Unforgettable, and Night Shift are great examples of programs that receive excellent overall ratings and limited to no 18-49 demographic support. Extant pulls down an average of 9 million viewers, yet it is fourteenth on the 18-49 list. Night Shift on NBC is very similar with 8.3 million total viewers and a thirteenth place showing in the 18-49 bracket. Unforgettable on CBS is the 7th most watched show of the summer and is not anywhere near the top 15 in the 18-49 group meaning that the majority of those viewers are older based on the time slot and data, they are not younger than 18.

 

Summer Ratings Outlook

 

The data is clear, the broadcast networks have come to compete with the cable networks and the internet streaming services for viewers and ratings. Some of the networks have been pretty innovative in producing limited summer series which have captured viewers, others have gone the reality show route or the talent competition route to draw in viewers.

 

This data proves that many Americans enjoy watching television and demand more choices and options, even in the summer time. The data has even driven some networks to end their summer series during the same week their Fall television programs are set to premiere. A few years ago that decision would have been unthinkable.

It is also apparent from this summer television data that whether you are watching Jack save the day on 24, Big Jim and the next problem the dome will dish out on Under the Dome, Halle Berry’s struggles with re-entry from a long “solo” mission in space on Extant, or the next contestant to move forward on America’s Got Talent; summer television programming is here to stay.

 

The summer television terrain is no longer a place for second run movies and rebroadcasts of earlier programs, it is a place dominated by new content and original programming. That is a welcome change for both the networks and the viewers.

 

(Ratings data, demographic data, advertising revenue data, total TV market/share data courtesy of AC Nielsen, Ad Age, The Wire, and TV Guide.com)

 

Current Marketing Trends in Broadcast Television

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.

 

Fall Strategy

 

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.