Co-written with Jesse Redniss and originally published at TV[R]EV on June 2, 2015
An article last week in Bloomberg asked whether TV’s second Golden Age was coming to a close, whether a glut of quality original programming made monetization difficult, particularly given that “(a)dvertisers don’t pay for [binge] viewing, leaving networks with fewer ad dollars to invest in more original programming.”
From our standpoint, Bloomberg was asking the wrong question. What they should have been asking is why television still doesn’t have a system in place to measure all that delayed- and binge-viewing. Especially when it’s become the preferred viewing method for so many people.
The current system, of live, C3, and C7, worked for a system where live viewing was king. But that king has been deposed, and by not adapting, the industry is just leaving money on the table. Of course there will be the “exceptions” that continue to drive the livelihood of this outdated methodology: Sports, Big Events, EMPIRE, Walking Dead etc.. but remove that programming slate from the equation and we’re left with a well exposed artform whose true value is being massively devalued
A recent study by Freewheel showed that 64% of OTT TV views took place eight days out from the original air date, or later. That’s a huge shift, and by not looking to measure those views, the industry is doing itself and its audience a huge disservice. The technology is there to count those viewers. All that’s missing is a tacit agreement between advertisers, networks and MVPDs that those views are important and should be included in the ratings. (Don’t get us started on the state of measurement today. As we recently pointed out, social stats are also sorely missing from the ratings.)
A few reasons we feel so strongly about this is that quality original content not only makes good business sense, it keeps the notion of storytelling, as an art form, alive and well. Let’s explore this a bit. First, there’s the long tail. High-quality content shot on HD has longevity– there’s no reason to think people won’t be watching shows like Mad Men or Lost five or ten years from now. Just look at the reported $180M Hulu paid for 180 twenty-year-old episodes of Seinfeld. It’s not because Hulu thinks a show about nothing has no value and it’s a perfect example of the long tail in action.
The second reason is that devoted niche audiences are far more valuable than larger audiences who are only moderately involved in a show. Devoted niche audiences will continue to watch a show for years, talk about it online, fund and follow reunions or remakes and serve as passionate brand ambassadors, bringing new viewers (and their money) to a show. That sort of audience only occurs with quality original programming, which is why we continue to believe it is a strong investment.
Interruptive advertising isn’t the only way to reach devoted audiences. Native, #CreatedWith advertising and branded content utilizing the actors and/or writers from the show can deepen the bond viewers feel for a brand. Ditto product placement and branded promotions: Shows with involved audiences are going to see much higher long-term rates of return on these tactics than shows people watch just because they happen to be on or because they have a strong lead-in. Can we say “Reality Show Free Fall” of the sort we’re seeing rock the current programming slates?
Writing off quality original programming, in particular the costs associated with it, is a grave mistake. While not all high production value programming is going to be successful (it’s art, not science, and thus nothing is ever going to be a sure bet), the payoff will be much greater than it is for the sort of “meh content” no one feels strongly about. With the current trajectory of awards we see Netflix and Amazon garnering, it’s clear to see that the emperor does have clothes and he’s decided to start mixing and matching his wardrobe and buying online.
What’s needed to make sure quality original programming remains a smart investment is a new Golden Age of TV Measurement, one that takes into account the way we watch today. It’s a system that will benefit audience, creators and programmers alike, one that’s easily implemented.
So why is no one willing to step up to the plate?
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