Inconceivable: MLB Realignment Proposal Gets Leaked

The award -winning publication, Baseball America, ran a story on Wednesday with a leaked proposal being considered by Major League Baseball that would realign the divisions, shorten the regular season, and add more playoff teams. The theory being that the reduction in travel costs will offset the revenue lost from the shortened schedule.

The proposal would eliminate the American League and National League as baseball fans have grown accustomed to throughout the history of the sport. The new realignment would group the teams geographically without allegiances to the current divisional groupings.

The new realignment concept would include expansion of the league by two teams to bring the total number of teams to 32; allowing the realigned proposal to divide the teams evenly. The new plan would create four divisions with eight teams each, and the two teams mentioned in the expansion component are Montreal and Portland, Oregon.

I have covered the expansion plans for all the major sports leagues for about four years now. I completed a huge series of articles on expansion about two years ago which considered several factors for different potential markets for new teams in each sport. These two cities are not surprising as top expansion destinations for baseball to consider at this point.

The support to bring back the Montreal Expos has been growing in the past few years and they have a potential ownership group and a few different sites identified for a downtown ballpark which I covered in a piece I wrote last year. Montreal makes sense because they have a built-in fan base from their first iteration that MLB can draw from and grow. The trepidation that some will have, and it is understandable, is that the city had a team and lost it already, that same type of fan apathy can happen again. That situation would be obviously very unideal for the league.

Portland came in “second place” in the race to get the relocated Expos in the early 2000s. The city has some solid demographic evidence to support a team and some potentially problematic detracting factors (media market size, weak potential corporate sponsorship) and they have no current stadium to support a team.

However, according to this report and some other research, the ownership group in Portland can still access a state grant for funding for a portion of the new stadium which was approved for the pursuit of the Expos relocation and still has not expired.

The last time MLB expanded was in the late 1990s and the valuations on those teams have gone through the roof relative to their initial expansion entry fees. The formula for the expansion fee for the two teams added in this proposal would apply the average franchise valuation and factor in the increased value based on revenue models as well as the average value increase over the past twenty years.

The new expansion fees will provide significant revenue to each owner and would be incentive enough for them to add two new members to the ranks. The newly proposed alignment would put teams like the New York Mets and New York Yankees in the same division. The format would put the Chicago Cubs and Chicago White Sox in the same division, and would break up certain rivalries that the average fan has grown to enjoy.

The Mets would be in a division without any of the other members of their current division, the NL East, and the Minnesota Twins would play all of their road games in the Eastern time zone. The questions will almost certainly arise around the designated hitter rule with the dissolution being proposed of the two league structure in place currently.

The purists are going to have several issues with this proposal including the marked increase in the number of playoff teams. The realigned league would have 12 playoff teams: the four division winners, and eight “wild card” teams that would play each other to determine who plays the four division winners in the Division Series, then the final four teams would compete to determine the World Series participants.

The shortened regular season would lead to more playoff games which would invariably increase the value of the television and media rights deals that MLB would seek to broker with their broadcast partners in the future.

The debate will most certainly be spirited regarding the expanded playoffs and the value of “making the playoffs” only to play a winner takes all one game elimination wild card game. The other side will defend the decision with the rationale that the league will have two more teams, and the expanded number of postseason slots should keep more teams in contention. This will translate into better interest in late season games in more markets which should help attendance levels in late season games with a reduced regular season.

The detractors to this proposal will inevitably feel that the elimination of the divisions we have grown traditionally accustomed to (i.e. AL East, NL West) in favor of a completely different / highly geographic setup which eliminates some historic rivalries will damage the television ratings for the sport.

In my view, baseball is different than the other major sports because it does not have the same national appeal. The television ratings for MLB have proven that it is a regional sport and while the nationally televised “Game of the Week” is nice, that game does not generate ratings the way a national broadcast for the NBA or NFL “Game of the Week”.

The argument could be made that this new proposal will become too specifically focused which could hurt the interest in the sport. A good example is who is going to care about a Baltimore Orioles versus New York Mets game outside of those two markets? Not that many people.

The new proposal is also going to face resistance from certain team owners especially in the western regions and some of the small market teams which will be placed into divisions with several larger market teams. The team owners in the eastern regions and the southern areas will most likely support this type of proposal because it will drastically reduce their travel costs, which is becoming a growing concern for team owners across Major League Baseball.

The league has other issues though that this proposal, or one of similar type, will not repair. The pace of play situation is a huge problem for the sport. The league has been looking at ways to speed up the length of games because millennials and younger people are not interested in anything that takes three to four hours out of their life to do. The average length of a game went down a couple of years ago and this season is up over three hours and five minutes. That needs to get resolved or else they will have a more difficult time maintaining fan interest in the future.

The long- term viability of certain franchises, namely the Oakland A’s and Tampa Bay Rays needs to be clarified before they expand and add two new teams to the league. Those two franchises are struggling to generate attendance and revenue and their respective owners are trying to get new stadiums built for them thinking that will solve all of their issues.

The proposal is radical, it is inconceivable to me that they would alter and eliminate the National League and American League and dissolve the current division structure and playoff structure. Then, I think of the changes to the league structures when they moved Houston to the American League which made necessary an interleague series all year long because of the unbalanced number of teams. The MLB offices did that to slowly dissolve the lines between the two leagues, to prepare the fans for something else in the future: one league.

The debate will continue as the months move forward. It should be noted that MLB knew what it was doing when it “leaked” this proposal. This was a calculated move to soften the ground around making these types of changes. It is a test sample, this does not mean this proposal for realignment is set in stone.

Conversely, the league has certain issues that you might consider giving them credit for recognizing: the cost of travel for a whole roster of players and support staff is getting very expensive, the amount of games in different time zones is draining the players, and the season is a six month grind with not enough off days (this proposal would give one day off a week to players and allow for travel the next day rather than overnight flights which can be a safety issue).

Major League Baseball has some issues that they must resolve and they are also trying to adapt to a changing landscape for the viewing of sports content and for maintaining fan interest in a world full of other distractions. This proposal seems radical, bizarre, and doomed to a baseball purist like myself.

However, we must all realize that this was just a test, the real changes are coming down the road, and I cannot imagine how inconceivable the actual realignment will be when it rolls out in the future.

Merger News: Discovery Purchases Scripps Networks

During the past four years here on Frank’s Forum I have focused on mergers in the business world, television ratings/business side of television, and news that impacts the consumer. The news on a Monday morning that Discovery purchased Scripps Networks combines elements from all three of those sub-themes.

First, the merger itself is worth over $11 billion and will combine the networks under the Discovery umbrella (Animal Planet, TLC, Discovery, ID network, and a stake in the OWN Network) with that of the Scripps portfolio (HGTV, Food Network, DIY Network, and Travel Channel). This merger will give the new Discovery Communications ownership of about 20% of the “basic cable” landscape.

This will provide them with leverage when negotiating carriage rights with the cable and satellite providers because they will have much more content and be able to split the channels up into different packages to promote to those providers in order to attract new customers.

Second, the ratings side is a big component of this deal as well. The ratings for basic cable programs are held to a different metric than the national broadcast or premium cable programs, but ratings are still crucial. This is made even more significant by the decreasing viewership levels for cable television programs due to the large number of consumers cancelling their cable service.

The ratings for certain programs that air on Scripps channels are significant, and the combination of the two entities helps their overall combined ratings compared to if they remained two separate units. The reality series, Fixer Upper on HGTV is the #2 rated overall cable program, so that is a huge addition to the Discovery Networks stable when the time comes for contract renewals with the cable and satellite providers.

This ties in nicely to the third component: the impact for the consumer. The combined Discovery/Scripps unit will now be able to offer more content and more value to the cable /satellite providers. They will also be offering their channels in different bundle packages which will benefit the consumer. These factors should lead to lower costs to the consumer for those particular channels.

The additional benefit will most likely be that the content from the new Discovery Networks combined entity will become more readily available in the “On Demand” functions of your cable or satellite provider.

The last component which impacts both the consumer and the business side of the television landscape is that the Discovery executives have discussed the development of their own streaming application. The proposed application would feature a range of content from this newly formed group of popular cable channels.

However, some industry experts remain skeptical of Discovery creating their own streaming service application because it is expensive to develop properly. Many of those same experts also counter that the combined Discovery/Scripps is going to cost more to operate because it is going to be a larger company with more expenses. That is going to require some adjustments by the senior management structure to run efficiently.

In the end, the merger of Discovery with Scripps Networks is an indication of the direction that those types of media companies are going to take in the future. The trend toward consolidation is going to be a necessity in order to compete with NBCUniversal (Comcast), Disney/ABC, and AT&T (DirecTV) especially with AT&T set to purchase Time Warner.

The management at both Discovery and Scripps knew that in order to survive in this new world order in cable television they had to combine forces. The increase in streaming content and consumers trending toward “cutting the cord” with cable services is going to further consolidate the industry in the years ahead. The landscape will change and only the strong will survive.

This merger should have a few benefits to the consumer especially if Discovery could get a streaming application launched. The changes will continue and how it will all turn out in the end is anyone’s guess, we will all just have to stay tuned, literally.

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.

Monday Night Football Ratings Take A Nosedive

The ratings were released today for ESPN’s Monday Night Football and they were the second lowest ratings for a season and would have been the lowest if not for the huge rating turned in by the Dallas Cowboys-Detroit Lions contest this past week.

The problem facing the ratings for MNF is part of a broader trend facing all NFL broadcasts this season, as a ratings decline was felt across all their broadcast packages. The ratings slump was seen by some as being connected to the presidential election, but even after that was decided in early November, the ratings have not rebounded to expected levels.

This past week, with the long Christmas/Chanukah holiday weekend the NFL lead the ratings for their main telecasts: Thursday Night Football (Eagles vs. Giants), Sunday Night Football, and Monday Night Football.

The ESPN Monday night package had been down in recent years because the matchups were generally not as compelling as the games featured in other NFL packages. The other theory being that with the addition of more Thursday night NFL games on network channels with CBS and NBC splitting those telecasts, that the average as well as the hard core NFL fan was becoming disinterested by the time Monday night rolled around.

The broadcast of NFL games, prior to this season, held the sentiment within the media and advertising industries as the “final frontier” for programming which remained immune to drops in ratings or viewership. This season though dispelled that theory as each segment of the NFL broadcasting tiered structure, from the regionalized coverage on Sunday afternoons to the primetime broadcasts, all experienced a downturn in ratings.
The before-mentioned Presidential election had some effect on the NFL ratings because the cable and network news programs on Sunday nights saw a marked increase in ratings. The NFL numbers rebounded somewhat after the election, but still were softer overall than in recent years.

I have written previously about a potential oversaturation point for the NFL with televised games and I think the 2016 season is evidence that the threshold has been reached. The final weeks of the season were also fairly devoid of drama surrounding the field of playoff teams, with the AFC side decided except for seeding a couple of teams, and the NFC side basically set except for the NFC North.

The matchup to decide the NFC North title between the Detroit Lions and the Green Bay Packers served as the season finale to Sunday Night Football on NBC and it finished with a 13.7 rating. That served as an increase from the Christmas night game on NBC between Kansas City and Denver which finished with an 11.2 rating.

The NFL, for its part in this situation, has repeatedly stated that they are looking into the ratings downturn and evaluating strategies to increase viewers moving forward. They also remain committed to Thursday and Monday night games despite the decline in ratings this season for both of those programming entities.

The players, notably Richard Sherman of the Seattle Seahawks among others, have been vocal in their disdain for Thursday night games which create short weeks for both teams, especially the visiting team that must also travel to the game site. The discussion is now shifting toward improved scheduling of Thursday night games such as positioning it following a bye week for the teams involved, or scheduling more divisional matchups with shorter travel distances for the visiting team.

I had also written previously about the National Anthem protests by NFL players and whether that had an impact on the ratings slump for the NFL. The issue undoubtedly drew people away from watching certain primetime games (especially those featuring the San Francisco 49ers which were at the center of the issue) and I know people personally who refused to watch certain NFL games because of those protests.

However, the Denver Post conducted a survey about the NFL ratings slump and only 25% of the respondents felt that the National Anthem protests were the core issue as to why they were changing the channel from the NFL production. It should be noted that this survey was unscientific but it had some revealing results which demonstrated that the number of penalties, overall quality of play, and the off-field issues for players (domestic violence, drugs, guns etc.) were the top reasons for the decline in viewers.

First, the number of penalties in these games is bordering on being out of hand. The league office has to get together with the officiating crews during the offseason and discuss some ways to cut down on penalties, especially during primetime games. There were points in this season where my schedule allowed me to watch more Monday night games than anything else, and the number of penalties and stoppages for challenged rulings on catches or some other issue made the games very difficult to watch at points. I am a huge fan of the NFL and watch more out of market games for that sport than any other, so if I am frustrated with that, it has to effect the average viewer.

Second, the overall quality of play is a huge issue here with ratings and they are connected very closely to the decline this season. Many of the Thursday and some of the NBC games on Sunday in primetime as well as the Monday night edition on ESPN had scores that were so lopsided that the viewers bailed well before the end of the game. The retirement of Peyton Manning and some less attractive matchups in some of the primetime packages drove this rationale further in the impact on ratings.
Next, the off-field issues for the players is a definite concern for the league, to which there is no easy way to mitigate because of the way information is transmitted today via social media and the internet. The media coverage of a variety of off-field matters from domestic violence charges, weapons charges, and other infractions such as drug or PED use is a definite setback to the image of the league. The league has talked about transparency, so it is not like they can keep these matters out of the public domain, so it will remain an issue for the NFL moving forward.

Finally, the topic of oversaturation was discussed in multiple media reports (SI.com produced a great piece about the ratings slump) and the before-mentioned Denver Post survey noted that only 29% of viewers watched all three days of NFL football (Thursday, Sunday, and Monday). That translates into a situation where you have oversaturation of product in the airwaves.

The combination of factors driving the decline also translates into a situation where the solution is not easily obtained. It should be interesting to see how the NFL responds to the ratings data from this season and whether they can reverse this trend, stay tuned.

The NFL seems bullish on not eliminating any of these package tiers so they are going to have to work around this reality that, until they address some of these other issues, the ratings are going to remain hovering around the levels they were this season. The NFL is getting a dose of the fact that reality is sometimes a very difficult concept to accept.

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!

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)

 

Top U.S. TV Markets: An Analysis of American Lifestyle

The practice of watching television is a major part of the American lifestyle. In recent years, the cost for cable television has increased, and Americans will continue to pay for the privilege of watching the programs that they enjoy.

 

The landscape has grown through the expansion of cable and internet streaming services which provide the viewer with the capability to customize their television viewing habits. The cable television space has a plethora of extra specific content channels for sports, music, lifestyle, home shopping, and reality television programming.

 

The demographics of the country have a role in defining the largest TV markets in the US, and those markets drive the ratings to determine the programming options for the smaller markets in other regions of the country.

 

Some other contributing factors in shaping the size of a TV market are climate and local/regional economic issues. In areas of extreme climates either hot or cold, those factors drive residents to be indoors more than in other regions, which tends to have an effect on the consumption of televised content.

 

The economic factors which contribute to the size of a given television market are: high or low unemployment levels, and the types of industries or business makeup of a given city or region.

 

Top U.S. Television Markets

The top TV markets are well known:

  1. New York
  2. Los Angeles
  3. Chicago
  4. Philadelphia
  5. Dallas – Fort Worth
  6. San Francisco – Oakland- San Jose, CA
  7. Boston
  8. Atlanta
  9. Washington D.C.
  10.  Houston

(www.stationindex.com)

 

 

These cities and media markets drive the advertising and the programming choices to a large degree for the rest of the United States. It is also interesting to note that while the Houston metropolitan area is the 5th largest in population, it is the 10th largest TV market (www.census.gov).

 

Now, this ranking for Houston could be determined by many different factors. The weather could lend itself to many outdoor activities especially during the peak TV ratings periods, commonly known as “sweeps” periods in September, February, and May.

 

The prevalence of outdoor activity either for work or recreation is also evidenced in the differential between Houston’s TV ranking (10th) and according to Arbitron, their radio market ranking (6th). Their radio ranking is more in line with their population ranking, and I believe it is a better measurement of the demographic factors involved in that marketplace.

 

In my background research for this article, I found some news stories centered on Houston remaining in the Top 10 TV markets nationally and how important that is given the reasons I detailed earlier. The city of Detroit is currently ranked 11th, and is on a population decline due to a horribly recessionary economy.

 

The marketing and advertising industry players located in Houston are concerned about being pushed from the Top 10 TV markets by Phoenix.

 

Phoenix currently sits at the 12th position in the TV markets rankings, and according to the Office of Management & Budget (O.M.B.) data, that metro area is gaining in population (up 3.26%) from 2010 to 2012, and is on a rapid growth trend.

 

Philadelphia – A Top 5 market

 

The current situation in Philadelphia is also interesting because they are currently ranked the 6th largest U.S. metro area according to the O.M.B., yet the city is ranked as the 4th largest TV market.

 

Furthermore, Philadelphia is the 8th ranked radio market in the U.S. (www.arbitron.com). So, the radio ranking is below their population ranking but their TV ranking is above their population ranking.

Some of this differential can be explained by the demographic areas used by both TV and radio to determine the rankings. The geographic areas are different: the TV market is drawn from a different region of suburbs surrounding the city into southern New Jersey and also includes a large portion of Delaware.

 

This regional area creates a 20 station TV market for Philadelphia and a large population base (www.stationindex.com). The city is also the headquarters of the cable giant, Comcast, which has recently touted the 2.1 million cable subscribers in the Philadelphia TV market (www.comcast.com).

 

Comcast has made it no secret that they want to be the number one cable TV provider in their own home market, so they promote their services very heavily there, and are very active in the community sponsoring a variety of charitable activities. This is a contributing factor to the size of the marketplace as well.

 

Conversely, the radio demographic region is drawn up differently and does not reach the same areas. It has only one station included in the radio market in Delaware, and that is in Dover (www.arbitron.com). So that explains some of the difference in those rankings.

 

I believe that the draw of TV in the Philadelphia market has more to do with the types of industry and commerce located there and the service industries needed to support that commerce. These jobs are around the clock, so when people get home from a long shift of difficult work, they watch TV.

 

The final factor in the scale of the TV market in Philadelphia is the huge viewership numbers that marketplace gets from live sports related programming.

 

San Francisco – The TV mammoth by the Bay

The marketplace in San Francisco is also an interesting case study in that their metro area (which includes Oakland and San Jose) is ranked 11th in population, but they are ranked as the 6th largest TV market.

 

Now, the factors surrounding the San Francisco market are driven by a huge number of TV station outlets (22 stations) for their population level (4.45 million as of 2012 according to the O.M.B.) and the weather is also a contributing factor to ratings there as well.

 

Besides the weather, the number of stations in San Francisco is based on the diverse multicultural population of that market. The high number of Hispanic and Asian residents facilitated the creation of several TV stations which have programming specifically for those audiences.

 

Due to the large sizes of these respective audiences, that programming also draws a very high viewership rating, and provides international companies with direct marketing opportunities via TV advertising.

 

The weather in San Francisco is also a contributing factor to the TV ratings there, it is famous for cool, foggy weather. It is the coolest of all major U.S. cities during the summer months of June (average temp: 68), July (average temp: 69) and August (average temp: 70).

In January, February, and March the average temperature ranges from 57 to 63. Then, the period from November to April is known as “the rainy period”, this information was all gathered courtesy of The National Weather Service and The Weather Channel (www.weather.com).

 

It is pretty clear, that with temperatures and conditions like that, you have many nights in that market that lend themselves to staying indoors and watching television.

 

Boston – A Northeast top tier market

 

Boston is similar to San Francisco in that it is the 10th largest metro area by population in the U.S. according to the O.M.B., but it has the 7th largest TV market. Boston is also very similar to San Francisco in total metro area population with 4.64 million based on 2012 statistics given to the O.M.B., and it also has very similar contributing factors for the size of its TV market.

 

Boston has 17 TV outlet stations in their respective marketplace territory, which stretches into Western Massachusetts and parts of New Hampshire. The highly diverse population also contributes to specific TV stations with multicultural programming.

 

The weather in Boston is also a factor in the TV viewership levels overachieving the metro areas’ respective population level. The temperatures in January (average: 35 degrees), February (38 degrees), and March (45 degrees) according to the National Weather Service, coupled with the precipitation provide ideal conditions for a market to consume broadcast television programming.

 

In Boston, July is the hottest month with an average temperature of 73 degrees (www.weather.com). The months of October (average temperature: 61), November (average temp: 51) and December (average temp: 41) are prime TV viewing months from the late fall until the end of the year. Now, couple that with an average of 10 days of precipitation per month in each of those 3 months and that provides an explanation for Boston having such large TV viewership numbers.

 

In a similar way to Philadelphia, Boston also has all of the major professional sports represented in their city, plus a vibrant college sports scene; the fans in Boston are particularly loyal, consequently driving huge ratings for live sports related televised programming.

 

Dallas – Fort Worth

 

The Dallas – Fort Worth TV market is shaped by many factors dealing with demographics, weather, and a strong economy. All of these factors combined with the appeal from a marketing and advertising perspective of having a huge cross section of people to expose to your product or service, have made this market the 5th largest TV marketplace in the country.

 

The ranking is in line with the population because the Dallas- Fort Worth “Metroplex” area is the 4th largest metro area in the U.S. according to the O.M.B., with a population of 6.645 million, and it also has the 6th largest economy in the U.S. as well.

 

Dallas has common factors to the other markets in this article which contribute to the growth of their TV marketplace. The city and metro area surrounding Dallas is very diverse, including a huge Hispanic population.  The market has 18 television outlet stations with some outlets dedicated to multicultural and Hispanic programming.

 

Dallas also has the contributing factor of weather, except unlike the other markets focused upon in this article previously, it is weather which is too hot. Dallas has some of the hottest summer temperatures in the continental U.S. and according to the National Weather Service, it is quiet common for 70 degree days to occur throughout the winter months there as well.

 

The heat and humidity of those summer days’ forces people to have to remain indoors in air conditioning which strongly impacts the prevalence of consuming televised programming. This is particularly evident if you look at the May “sweeps” period, which is critically important in the television industry, and where weather can play a huge role in the viewership levels for Dallas. Those factors combine to make this market very important to advertising companies and large manufacturing companies to market products.

 

The final component to the growth of the Dallas- Fort Worth metro area was an unfortunate one: Hurricane Katrina. When that terrible tragedy struck New Orleans in 2005, many victims were displaced and put on buses to Dallas.

 

In the aftermath of the storm, those former residents of New Orleans found their homes either destroyed or their neighborhoods too drastically changed for them to return there, so aided by the strong economy in Dallas, they were able to get jobs and settle there. This migration of people caused a population surge coupled with population growth in later years due to the recessionary economy in other parts of the country.

 

The recession did not affect Dallas in the same way as many other regions of the country, so the city saw another influx of people from other parts of the country coming to find jobs.

 

They were successful in a short period of time in finding work, so those “transplants” remained in Dallas. One survey I read attributes 50% of the Dallas metro area population to being from outside of Texas. This statistical demographic measurement makes Dallas very attractive from a marketing and advertising perspective.

 

Rise of New Media

 

Any analysis of the television industry would be remiss if it did not include the current trend of new media technologies and their respective subsequent effect on the television landscape.

 

New media is any service which facilitates the delivery of content, in this case television programming, in an immediate “on demand” fashion directly to the consumer. That is how I would define some of these new services and products which have flooded the marketplace in recent months.

 

The rise of “video on demand” services through major cable television and telecom providers as well as other internet providers has created a whole new subsector of the television industry.

 

Some of these services are: Apple TV, Google Play, Amazon streaming video, iTunes, Netflix, Hulu, Ustream, Roku, and Aereo.

 

The obvious reaction to some of the before mentioned services from the major television broadcast companies has been one of resistance. The most recent was a high profile lawsuit, widely reported in the media, regarding the Aereo service by the major American broadcasting companies.

 

A federal court, according to reports, ruled in favor of Aereo stating that the content did not violate copyright infringement laws because they were not “public performances”; the content was being provided to paying subscribers.

 

The decision just solidified that the television and media industry has changed dramatically and will continue to adapt in the months and years ahead. The demand for content will only continue to grow as the number of specialized outlets for that content will expand.

 

The growing prevalence for the ready accessibility of DVR technology forced the first changes to the Nielsen ratings system in many years (www.nielsen.com). The ratings service now uses data to incorporate the replay of a program via DVR on the same day.

 

The future

 

The gold standard for television programming at this point is live sporting events because people can so easily access scores on their smart phones, tablets, or other devices. The need to see that sporting event live while it happens is still a huge draw, which correlates to the massive sums of money the broadcast companies are paying to the major sports leagues for the rights to that precious content.

 

The strongest case for the importance and relevance of sports is the huge ratings numbers that the Super Bowl has garnered in the past few years, setting ratings records for television (www.nielsen.com).

 

In the end, the demand will still remain for the traditional television viewing of certain programs and events. The challenge for the TV broadcasting industry will be to continue to provide content which is highly relevant in an increasingly complex world.

 

That will prove difficult, but not impossible, it remains to be seen how it will be implemented. However, it is clear from this analysis that Americans love watching television, and that trend will not change any time soon.