Explaining 12 things TV networks do that seem crazy

Discuss

107 Responses to “Explaining 12 things TV networks do that seem crazy”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Having read both this post and Craig’s post yesterday about canceling shows, I see a lot of “we’ve been doing it that way for years, and we know it works” reasoning. There’s real value in that kind of institutional memory, but I’m pretty sure that’s what the record labels were saying right up until Napster and iTunes ruined those businesses completely.

    When (not if) video content delivery substantially shifts to on-demand downloads/streams, the television network as a delivery mechanism will go the way of snail mail. Their only remaining value will be marketing/filtering–that’s exactly the spot publishers find themselves in right now.

    At that point, the Dr. Horribles can really take over the world, and “because we know it works” will be chiseled on many corporate tombstones.

  2. cmpalmer says:

    I always figured most Nielson families lied. I know they did when they had to keep diaries (“All we watch is wholesome family TV and PBS”), but I’m sure they probably tailor their actual viewing habits while being monitored.

    I’m pretty sure that if any of the BB commenters here knew they were a Nielson household, they would either (a) only watch shows that they thought were high quality and should succeed, or (b) watch wrestling on SyFy and Nostradamus shows on the History Channel just to screw with the ratings system.

    Each Nielson household represents thousands (at least 5000) households and even more viewers. And you have to agree to be monitored (there goes your random sample).

  3. Anonymous says:

    @craig

    i’d really like to hear your opinion on series that airs consecutively in a short time frame. (the only one i know of is Torchwood season 3 the whole season premiered and finished airing in 5 days)

    As a viewer i think the concept is brilliant. First of all, the fast airing format seem to grabs a lot attention (at least from me). it’s extremely satisfying to watch an epic story unfold in just a couple of days instead of weeks. and it allows for some heavy serializing which imo always makes a show more interesting shows with a “monster of the week” or “case of the week” format

  4. Kai Jones says:

    There are ads I rewind the show to watch; that’s what advertisers can do, when they put the effort into it, they can engage me in their ad even though I could just fast-forward through it. Put those ads on my favorite TV shows and the synergy will amaze you. And yeah, I buy stuff from TV ads–I talked my husband and son into trying Old Spice body wash because of the excellent commercial (“I’m on a horse” is now a catch-phrase at our house) and they liked it so we are continuing to buy it.

    • cmpalmer says:

      If we had nudity in ads in America, they wouldn’t get fast-forwarded through as much. Skip. Skip. Skip. “Boobs!”. Rewind. Watch. Skip. Skip.

      • Anonymous says:

        The first few times. Then they’d become annoying, and you’d stop finding nudity exciting in that context. Many people easily skip through ads with bikinis, for instance.

        Also, the type of nudity that captivates people is not a constant. As much as boobs get mentioned on the internet, there is about half the human population that really isn’t attracted to them.

    • Antinous / Moderator says:

      “I’m on a horse” is now a catch-phrase at our house

      “I’m on horse” is a catchphrase around mine.

  5. WF says:

    I’d love to know why, and point in case is Stargate Universe, that the channel cuts in so fast on ads that it ruins the suspense. I realize they make money off ads, but they’re doing it to the detriment of the series itself.

  6. Anonymous says:

    @Tim #88: I think your idea of subscribing to an internet channel where you’re paying not just for access to the programs but for an intelligent editor who has selected good stuff is a great one! I live in the UK and watch a lot of material on 4OD, an online, on-demand service which allows you to catch up with things that have been on Channel 4, E4 or More 4, and also has a huge archive. (I often choose to skip the actual live TV showing because I know it’ll be available at a more convenient time.) It makes you watch a couple of adverts at the beginning, and a couple more in the middle. The adverts are a tad annoying but I’m not techy enough to get round them, so I do tend to watch them, plus I also feel it’s only fair in return for 4OD’s useful service. 4OD is otherwise free to watch. But would not a combination of 4OD-style adverts with a basic subscription charge for the service provide a marketing model, with money coming both from viewers who have subscribed to the channel and from advertisers, as is presently the case with cable TV?

    Another useful model which seems to work well might be the music-streaming service Spotify, which I use a lot, as do many of my friends. (I don’t think it’s available in the US though.) It’s free with adverts, or you can pay a subscription to get uninterrupted advert-free listening. Everyone finds adverts a bit annoying, but if you’re presented with an actual cost of skipping them then they usually end up looking like quite good value. Or, how about you pay a blanket basic subscription, but whenever you choose to watch something you have the option to pay an extra 50p to have it without the adverts?

    I think all Craig Engler’s posts have been very interesting! It’s very good to hear about the experience of someone who is really involved with making these things work day to day in a mainstream environment.

  7. Beelzebuddy says:

    Well, I suppose by now it would be beating a dead horse to point out that every one of these problems could be solved with web tv. Time slots, lead ins and lead outs are meaningless when you can see all the shows at any point in time.

    But I’ll also note that these entries affect serialized shows much more than episodic ones. No one cares if the next season of Two and a Half Men is shown in a different order. Skipping the first episode of Firefly, where the characters and setting are introduced, though? Inexcusable. It doomed the show from day one.

    Also, shows with fan followings are more heavily impacted than shows watched just because they’re on. If a show’s intended audience consists of people who happen to already be on that channel, sure, swapping the show around will do a fair job of sampling the viewership available. But if people want to deliberately watch show X, and X has already entered the time slot roulette that you describe up there, there’s almost no chance they’ll stick with it long enough to actually follow along. Therefore show X fulfills your other prophecy, of continuing to do badly because people don’t know when it’ll be on.

  8. cmpalmer says:

    A few additional thoughts:

    I pay a large cable bill even though I don’t subscribe to HBO, Showtime, etc. It’s crept up over the years and the cost is (almost) hidden from my conscious mind. I’ve never divided the cost by the hours of TV I watch – if I did, I’d probably cancel it.

    I fully understand ad-supported TV, but I’m personally always excited when a show begins with “This show is brought to you with limited commercial interruptions by…” Yay! That means I don’t have to watch with the remote in my hand.

    As a general rule, I hate subscribing to multiple things. I have cable and Netflix. I wouldn’t add a Hulu subscription or anything without a lot of thought. Maybe Comcast, the worst company in America according to Consumerist, has a potential of the right idea with Fancast – allow content access if you are a cable subscriber with them.

    I think iTunes has a working mini-payments model (not micro since nothing is less than 99 cents), but the app store and song store turns those things into impulse buys. I’m not going to enter a credit card transaction to watch a single show, but if I have an account, yeah maybe. I do balance the purchase of a single show to the possibility of (a) buying the full season later on DVD (which, although DRM’ed, is a physical medium that I can rip and back up – even if they don’t want me to), (b) the odds of me ever wanting to watch it again, or (c) the idea of just waiting until it hits reruns or syndication. Selling shows or “season passes” need to take that into consideration.

  9. pickin grinnin says:

    I have always known that business concerns underlie a lot of decisions networks make. I can certainly understand all the points you make.

    The one area where I have seen networks make some major mistakes in the past are with unexpected (and poorly advertised) time slot changes.

    This has become a non-issue for me, though, since I never watch ANY show live any more. I record everything with a digital recorder, and watch it later (sometimes just an hour later). That lets me skip the commercials (which I know irritates the networks to no end), but more importantly lets me watch the show in pieces, if I need to.

    Ultimately, though, most of the series that I watch these days are on HBO, Showtime, or one of the other premium channels. They are simply better shows, in most cases – more intelligent, better written, and without the ridiculous FCC limits. Shows like “The Sopranos,” “Six Feet Under,” “The Tudors,” “United States of Tara,” etc. would never survive on network stations that rely on commercials for their income. They would have been cut early on, for the reasons you cite above. Look at what happened to “The Riches.”

    I find it ironic that someone at SyFy is posting about this topic. I really have to wonder about many of the decisions made at SyFy over the past several years, even beyond the ridiculous name change. Your channel has had several good original series (only a couple of which are left), but the original movies are utter trash (so bad that they aren’t even funny).

    The inclusion of wrestling is a desperation move if I ever saw one. I used to sit and watch SyFy (commercials and all) while I worked on crafts, fixed computers, folded laundry, etc. Now I just record episodes of Eureka (when it’s on) and Stargate Universe. Nothing else on there appeals to me anymore. I have yet to meet a single person who is enthused about the channel anymore.

    • alisong76 says:

      God, if I’d had to watch The Wire live, with ads, a week between each episode, I think my brain would have fallen out. One of the best things I’ve ever seen, but if there was ever a show that demanded every bit of your attention…you’re right, any channel other than HBO or maybe Showtime would have put it in the “too hard for our demographic” basket.

  10. drongo says:

    If there’s one thing I’m learning from reading this guys posts, it’s this: Give up. Don’t even bother getting into a new show that comes along. They’ll yank the damn thing out from under you for a variety of bizarre reasons they can justify till the cows come home. Shows get canceled, moved around, showed out of order and bad crap gets promoted instead, and they don’t want to change it.

    At first I thought BoingBoing was stupid to give this dude access to their site as a soapbox to sell his industry, but now it seems like genius. He’s hanging himself with the rope they gave him, and doing it real slow too.

  11. Craig Engler says:

    Anon #60, yes, my team came up with the concept to do them, and Ron, David et al did an amazing job actually making them. I also named them, with Ron & David’s approval … my one personal claim to fame in contributing to the BSG canon.
    —-
    Anon #62, we couldn’t run them earlier otherwise we would have. UK shows have different run times than US shows so can either be cut to fit, or run “off the clock” which will mess up the rest of the sched. So the usual method is to cut to fit.
    —-
    redesigned, yes, US TV seems to have a lot of procedural and medical dramas.
    —-
    Dj Wolfie, well I care. Every crew member I’ve ever met on any show of ours has been awesome. Great people who do a great job. They certainly deserve time off too!
    —-
    Lexa, the rating a show “needs” to do to get renewed varies by show for a wide variety of reasons, so there is no average I know of. I think I can safely say any show that does over 4 million viewers per episode on our network is a very, very good show. It also depends on the age range of viewers. If we had only 12 year olds watching a show, that’s tough for us to sell.
    —-
    Muldfeld, I’ll pass along your compliment to Mark. He’s a good guy. I agree courage and decency are great traits in any person.
    —-
    Osno, we don’t have those limitations when we run stuff online (well, not all of them anyway…rights issues crop up in any media). Unfortunately we also don’t have the revenue stream to support online only development yet either. But “my” digital group is part of the overall network so we know how all the TV stuff works too, and we participate in it fully.
    —-
    Man On Pink Corner, I don’t think it’s a silly, arbitrary rule to require (legitimate) customers to pay for products. I also don’t consider TV (or any other form of entertainment) a “need”.
    —-
    Beelzebuddy, I thought it was a pretty good answer and not curt (given the medium). Sorry you thought so. My higher ups and I all love the Internet and don’t think it’s a fad. Believe it or not I don’t “have” to write these posts…I do it on my own time, for fun.
    —-
    Steve, sorry you don’t like the name change. It’s been working out pretty well, but I understand it’s not to everyone’s taste.
    —-
    Tim, if the model were pointless I’m not sure 100,000,000 households in the US would be using it. They clearly see some value in it.
    —-

    • Man On Pink Corner says:

      Man On Pink Corner, I don’t think it’s a silly, arbitrary rule to require (legitimate) customers to pay for products.

      Not your call. You didn’t read a single word I wrote, did you?

      I also don’t consider TV (or any other form of entertainment) a “need”.

      Again, not your call.

  12. Anonymous says:

    Craig,

    You’ve depicted a necessarily chaotic shuffling of little known products desperately seeking to amass the attention (Nielson ratings) that will provide life blood (advertising $$) to the network and its food chain.

    This results from putting priority on the short term, and in Computer Science we call this “thrashing”. [See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thrashing_%28computer_science%29 -- "thrashing is a situation where large amounts of computer resources are used to do a minimal amount of work, with the system in a continual state of resource contention." ]

    Maybe that’s just the nature of the TV beast. Actually it reminds me of the consumer electronics industry throwing all kinds of products at us to see what sticks. But then there are a few folks with vision, say a Steve Jobs. They know what they want, and they know enough of us will like it too, so they back a quality product from start to finish.

  13. Craig Engler says:

    Thac0, not at all. These apply to all shows (good or bad, depending on your POV). For instance, you might try to find a broader audience for a “niche” show doing okay by moving it around, or giving it a stronger lead in, etc.

    Anon #5, yes, the audience ultimately decides what stays on the air. Of course it doesn’t always feel that way, to either the audience, the producers or the people who work at the network, but it’s true.

    Anon #11 & roaneah, yes, the TV model is different in the UK. And Budapest. Etc. I’m talking about US TV.

    Anon #16, I don’t think budget has to do with good/bad writing. Writing is hard at any level, and it’s tough to make a good anything…book, movie, TV show, blog, etc.

    Wayne Nix, nah, I just like to talk about the things I’m interested in. I’m also against oil spills.

    jerkzilla, I’m pretty sure we just canceled MST3K when we decided it wasn’t working for us. I wasn’t in on that one though.

    Michael E. Stamm, Goldman is 100% accurate IMO.

    Anon • #25, this one’s a bit out of my realm as I’ve only been in the TV biz 10 years, but I’d assume if you cut out commercials, the cable companies would charge even more (see HBO, Showtime) and most people would rather “pay” the balance by watching commercials than pay even more cash.

    Anon #28, the best thing you can do is get more viewers to watch the show. Advertisers pay us based on the ratings.

    Karl Elvis, here too I’m out of my depth, as sweeps are for networks, not cable TV. I’m always a bit baffled by them myself.

    Osno, I care greatly about you, that’s why I asked to be able to do these pieces. I believe strongly in explaining how TV works to people so they can understand it, and perhaps even impact it and effect change once armed with the knowledge of how it works. If you want your favorite show on TV, I’d like to help you keep it going, whether it’s on Syfy or another network.

    Bionicrat2, yes, people in the industry keep telling me this happens all the time, but I’ve honestly never seen it. Maybe it happens more at networks because they run more shows than cable networks…I don’t know.

    cmpalmer, I’m anxious to see what the next model is, and hopefully will help in some way to build it. I am the digital guy at Syfy after all ;)

    webmonkees, ads/promos are created by the in-house team usually, not the producers.

    DrRufus, a lot more people than you think watch the commercials, which is why it works. And thanks, I liked BSG too :)

    Anon #41, oh, yes everyone including TV execs make mistakes. There is no guarantee of success with these tactics, and worse still no way to ever know absolutely if the decision was the right or wrong one. So in this case you can’t even say hindsight is 20/20. On many levels TV is a gut-level biz because you can’t quantify it. I’m quite sure we make mistakes all the time.

    Anon #43, I’m more just saying “This is the way it works today and if you’re curious, here’s why. It probably won’t work quite this way tomorrow, or ever again. But today it does. We’ve heard of Napster and are not eager to see that happen to our business and are trying to figure it out as we go along. We’re fortunate in that (so far) we’ve avoided Napster and we’ll keep changing our biz to avoid that.” Seems like a reasonable approach to me.

    cmpalmer, LOL (literally) on your (b) on comment #44!

    WF, the shows writers know at one point the breaks come in and write accordingly.

    Beelzebuddy, these aren’t problems, they’re just the way the system works today. You can “solve” the problems of linear TV by eliminating it, but if you don’t just eliminate it, you have to work with it while you have it.

    pickin grinnin, we have many enthusiastic (and wonderful!) viewers. Come to Cafe Diem at Comic-Con this year and you can meet tens of of thousand in person :)

    • Osno says:

      Truth is I sincerely believe you… but that’s not what’s in the words. And even though I get the purple SyFy, I don’t think I’m in your demographic not being american and all. But if you want, please please bring back Firefly and The 4400!! That last one was a shame. I discovered it 1 year after it was cancelled (in a medium you’ll probably not approve of). I showed it to as many people as I could, and they all became instant fans. But it was to late by then, and now the people behind it is doing V (which I’m not entirely convinced of) so they probably won’t go back to that. And Firefly is worst because Morena is too old to do the intergalactic Geisha and Jewel has changed in my mind from geeky sexy technician to insecure but cute doctor. Boring terminator and dead pilot are not really a problem.

  14. CMK says:

    “Listen to the Nielsen numbers/Not listen to the great DVR numbers”

    Um. Nielsen ratings are also done for some TiVo users, following what is watched, if it’s live or recorded, and what commercials are seen. How do I know? We were selected to be a Nielsen family through use of our TiVo. Shhhhh.

  15. pickin grinnin says:

    I forgot about Caprica. That brings the total of decent shows on SyFy up to three.

    The Nielsen ratings are archaic and statistically suspect. DVR figures would give you a better idea of what people like, but they are obviously going to be incomplete, as well. It’s high time someone came up with a new, more reliable system to measure viewer interest.

    As someone pointed out, commercial television needs to learn from the mistakes of the music industry.

  16. quitterjunior says:

    How has no one mentioned Arrested Development yet? I mean, we lose any given CW show and life goes on… But we’re talking about one of the best reviewed shows on television – killed by industry shenanigans? Don’t tell me there’s no audience for it, either. Look at Modern Family. It’s like a refugee camp.

    • Anonymous says:

      Arrested Development, as well as Firefly were FOX series.
      FOX is where good shows go to die.

      @Craig, did you have a hand in the Galactica “Resistance” webisodes? if so thank you. They rocked. And the writers strike they sparked brought us many great things, like a pay model for alternate media streams and Dr.Horrible.

    • alisong76 says:

      Agreed. Arrested Development is one of those (many) shows I discovered on DVD long after its demise. It was always scheduled at ridiculous times and on a network that is more worried about giving ex-footballers their own “comedy” shows than showing anything decent. Basically, it never had a chance.

      In the network’s defence (can’t believe I just said that), AD is one of those shows that I think works best when the viewer is at leisure to sit down and watch it properly – there are a million little word games and sight gags and callbacks that often get missed on the first viewing.

    • Brainspore says:

      This may be an unpopular opinion but I think that the three-season run of “Arrested Development” is a great example of a show done right. Every episode was pure gold, and the writers had enough notice of their cancellation to wrap up all the story arcs into a finale that did justice to the show’s promise. Better to go out on top than to slowly slide into mediocrity.

  17. Anonymous says:

    I think when people claim that a network wants to kill a show, the specific situation being referred to is that the head of programming for the network has changed, and so the person who wanted the show to succeed, believed in the show, etc. is no longer in power. The new powers that be may have advocated against the show, and, though obviously it’s better if every show succeeds, they have no investment in holding out for an improvement in ratings, since their reputation will not take a hit from cancellation, nor get a bump from the show’s success. I’m not sure if this really happens to television shows, but I know this happens to studio films in development.

  18. Daedalus says:

    Nice way of pointing out some problem areas.

    Now, what are your ideas (or your suits’ ideas) for fixing these problems?

  19. Anonymous says:

    people need to grow up, no syfy or any other network is not spending millions to make shows just for you, talk about a ego-centric view…

    No, web TV and new media isn’t replacing TV any time soon, 1st glaring problem, (that I don’t see why no one can understand) how do you pay for it? Don’t mention youtube, it dosn’t make a profit. Hulu’s 12 million profit last year is a drop in the bucket comparied to what all the networks make via the TV ad sales. The Apprentice runs “just below $2 million an episode.” cheap in TV world, 12 million a year isn’t gonna allow you to make the stuff your used to.

    So all you TV is pointless, new media can do it better, whats your bright idea? Why is there no new media outlet making the big bucks?

    “These guys are idiots, I could do it better.” Then why don’t you? I think many of the people I hear here would be sorely shocked if they were dropped into the position of an TV suit… and probably quickly fired, because they would pick shows they personally liked, and didn’t look at the numbers, advertisers would back out, and the network would fail.

    You guys DO realize you boingboingers are a uncommon demographic? You don’t represent the nation at large, and therefore your not gonna agree with what the masses (for the most part) are watching.

    Thats the way it works, thats the draw back of being a “cool” guy. Do you really want the whole country to think and act like you?

    Grow up, look at things through the perspective of the real world.

  20. Anonymous says:

    I get that Nielsen is the de facto standard, but really given the leaps in technology there should be some room for improvement there, or at the very least inclusion. I watch a lot of shows on Hulu and DVR for reasons of convenience and lowered advertising I get from them. The fact that so many others use these services too should at least cause TV to question their models of viewership and delivery. Also, I would like to see instances were the network believes in a show enough to stick with it and not just move it around but try to make their advertising better or more suited for the audience instead of blaming the show for the deficiencies of the other factors involved in creating success. *cough Firefly *cough

  21. Anonymous says:

    Is having ad-filled-but-cheap coexisting with ad-free-but-expensive versions of TV anything more than a minor tweak at this point?

    Seriously, it *might* be possible to fund Eureka or Caprica entirely on user fees. In any case, you won’t know until you try.

    Although I suppose I’m not talking to the right person — it’d be cheaper and easier for the production company to try this.

    But given a slavish devotion to advertisers, what is needed is selling the audience to them. Scifi is watched mostly by middle-class men with a gadget fetish. Isn’t that the dream demographic for advertisers?

    No? Women buying life’s essentials is the real target audience? OK, so why so much sports? Truthfully, TV execs seem to put on what they like, regardless of ratings.

    I think SciFi does poorly because execs, by dint of their personality, don’t understand it. The obvious answer, to put a geeky SciFi fan in charge of the network programming doesn’t work because geeks hate executive work and executives hate geeks enough to exclude them.

  22. Anonymous says:

    Thanks Mr. Engler, I’ve really enjoyed reading these.

  23. Anonymous says:

    I’ve seen people bring up Doctor Who, but not how it ran on Sci-Fi yet. It was literally months behind the UK (The Runaway Bride — a CHRISTMAS SPECIAL — debuted in the US the following JULY), and added commercial interruptions that were often jarring (The Sound of Drums featured commercial breaks in MID-CONVERSATION at least twice). I used to DVR it, but eventually that kind of thing sent me screaming to torrent sites.

    An isolated example, I realize — and Sci-Fi made some efforts to fix those problems before the show moved to BBC America — but I’d say a pretty good example of having something great and not being able to do right by it.

  24. Andrew Katz says:

    This all makes a good deal of sense. What doesn’t make sense is that the BBC (and Channel 4 to an extent) in the UK, which are publicly funded, frequently act as though they have to comply with these rules.

    Publicly funded status gives them the freedom to be creative, experimental and daring. The BBC has, to be fair, done this (as has Channel 4), and very successfully too, from time to time, but there are always increasing calls for the BBC to be more commercial, and we’re currently waiting to see if the Murdoch/Tory stitch up (i.e. decimating the BBC, to remove competition to BSkyB and News International) survives the Lib/Con coalition. It will be disastrous for UK news and broadcasting if it does.

    Murdoch entered the UK market knowing that the BBC existed, and was a publicly funded. It’s part of the terrain, something that he has to deal with, just as you have to deal with mountains when you’re building railways.

    A ratings system, and commercial funding (obviously) only rewards viewing figures. However, there is plenty of stuff I don’t watch or listen to now, which I’m happy to pay for, knowing I will listen to or watch later. BBC Radio 3 and world service* come into this category.

    *I know this is not funded through the the licence fee, but it’s still publicly funded.

  25. MrTempleDene says:

    Thing is, none of this is true of the UK market, shows get moved around because of special events occasionally, but new shows tend to run their whole course, shows keep the time slot they start in and shows might not get recommissioned for a second series, but don’t get cut off halfway through.

    Admittedly, sometimes a show is bought from US distributors and the channel airing it gets caught short when the distributors cancel it in the US but in general we get the shows in full.

    I worry that as UK TV gets more commercialised I will be moaning about all the things you in the US complain about, but maybe, US execs should look at why the UK model works so well.

    And don’t forget, we don’t just have the BBC, there are plenty of cable and satellite channels available, they seem to survive without resorting to the shenanigans described in this article.

  26. redesigned says:

    13th Crazy Thing – Create yet another crime investigation drama clone.

    Sure I enjoy a few of these shows, but really how many do we need at once?

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_police_television_dramas

    Oops, have to run CSI Timbuktu is on channel one hundred thousand.

  27. Anonymous says:

    As a Brit who has recently been forced to use digital TV ( I was hoping the digital signal wouldn’t work, sayonara TV- no such luck ), I have to say I love being able to fast forward through adverts. I always used to mute them. Now, thanks to the millions of idiots who voted the Tories back in, Murdoch is likely to get his way, the BBC curtailed or destroyed, and adverts every seven to ten minutes like the US model will become the norm. That’s when I will probably ditch TV altogether.

  28. Dj Wolfie says:

    “the show takes a hiatus because…sometimes the writers, producers, cast and crew need some vacation time.”

    As a crew member from hollywood- No one ever cares if the CREW needs a vacation. 14 hr production days, starting monday at 6 am, finishing fridays work halfway into saturday, followed by another 6am call monday…

    I think is the time off the producers, writers or actors demand that make that call.

    But hey, thanks for even mentioning we exist in the process!!

  29. Fabrice Calando says:

    Hi Craig,
    I’m new to the TV industry here in Canada and your posts are always insightful! Thanks for sharing!

    The marketing budgets can be frustrating, but we always do our best with what we have!

  30. Spikeles says:

    Pro tip: Number 1 way to increase revenue:
    Put advertisements between shows, not during.

    Do that, and i guarantee I’ll be next in line to sign up for your service, heck I’d be willing to pay a PREMIUM if you offered that.

  31. TheWiseLemur says:

    Is it just me or do none of those seem very crazy? It seems like good business decisions rather than basing the actions of the network on just fan/viewer input. While this input is important, it cannot be the only deciding factor as to what the networks do with a particular show.

    • sloverlord says:

      I think that’s the whole reason Craig is here. TV viewers, and sci-fi fans in particular, are very vocal when they’re angry about a beloved show being cancelled. There’s nothing wrong with this, but their complaints often aren’t very rational and they tend to either meander into loony conspiracy theories, or just plain ignore the fact that television is a business and businesses need to make money. Craig’s just trying to say, “It may not be ideal, but this is the way it is sometimes.”

    • Gloria says:

      I think part of the “crazy” accusation is that when viewers see these actions that networks take, they tend to assume one particular reason (that isn’t very good), or can’t see any at all.

      The worst part is probably that there are MANY reasons why a specific action is taken, and viewers don’t really know which one it is, so they might presume the wrong one (i.e. the “crazy” one).

  32. Lexa says:

    I understand what you said on the Live + 7 numbers. I’m curious though, what’s considered a good rating for a SyFy original show Live + SD? Also, along those same lines, about what average ratings is SyFy looking for in order to renew a show? I know ratings can take a dip and be fine, but basically, how low is too low?

    Thanks for taking the time to answer all of our questions!

  33. RPF75 says:

    #13–Rename your network to something that looks like a horrible tropical disease… :)

  34. Thac0 says:

    Ugh, so from all this I can see that everything as one would logically assume is run purely by statistics meant to appeal to the lowest common denominator. No wonder why we have such crappy TV shows. Isn’t there a market for niche TV; for intelligent and innovative programming that might get lower ratings? Can’t you charge more for a more target audience or something even though the viewership is lower?

    I mean TV is so bad i don’t watch anything but fringe on a regular basis. I’d rather watch youtube now days, At least peoples stupidity is less predicable than TV.

    • Anonymous says:

      ThacO,:”Ugh, so from all this I can see that everything as one would logically assume is run purely by statistics meant to appeal to the lowest common denominator.”

      uhhh, yea, it costs lots of money to run ads on TV, your trying to reach as many people as you can for that large sum of money. The more who know about your product, the more you might sell.

      “Isn’t there a market for niche TV”

      Uh, yea, the cooking networks, syfy network, DIY network, etc etc etc…

      “for intelligent and innovative programming that might get lower ratings?”

      No, ratings are money, without money your niche station won’t be around to make that intelligent innovative programming.

      “Can’t you charge more for a more target audience or something even though the viewership is lower?”

      I’m not an insider, but I guess no for the most part. An advertiser has tons of choices to target his audience already. Want middle age stay at home mom’s? Oprah, Soap Operas, Cooking shows. Want 16-29 males, Adult Swim, SpikeTV. Want single women scared of spousal abuse, LifeTime. Kids? Cartoon Network. Want Science Fiction fans? SyFy… the targeting is already there, after that, its all about the numbers, you want as much of that niche as possible.

      “I mean TV is so bad i don’t watch anything but fringe on a regular basis.”

      Then in my opinion you’d be part of the problem… but that’s the way it goes, Fringe gets good ratings (because of people like you), so will be around for a while longer, while I have to wait for reruns of Futurama (that is returning YEA!) and Netflix viewings of Kids in the Hall. To each his own, and the masses will win out.

  35. greengestalt says:

    I think TV is just owned by big corporations and that their only goal is to get money from government and other giant businesses so the CEOs stay super-rich.

    Decry it as “Conspiracy Theory” but it explains the bland tedium and unwillingness to let any “Fringe” thing last if it even gets on the air.

    My “Conspiracy Theory” is that the networks are sock puppets for the elite controllers, the globalists, etc. That they actually suppress anything that’s truly “Innovative” for fear that;
    1. Other shows will have to “Catch Up”.
    2. It’ll “Rock the boat” and the established advertising/revenue streams will be disrupted.
    -and, last but far from least-
    3. If a show gets really popular, personalities get essential. You don’t want a writer to dictate his salary because he has a fan base who’ll leave without him. Even worse, you don’t want a news anchor doing anything unscripted and getting away with it, like being the turning point for the Vietnam war…

    I didn’t just pull this conspiracy out of my “Pyramid Hat”, here’s an article on the conflict between the “Pulps and the Slicks” from yesteryear which IMO has many parallels. http://www.blackgate.com/2010/05/11/a-quick-quote-on-%E2%80%9Cpulps-vs-slicks%E2%80%9D/#respond

    One was “Lowbrow” horribly paid, but fantastic and free and is still remembered. The other the writers spent more time trying to cater to the “Social Agenda” of the big companies and their advertisers, and their stuff is/was horribly dated and largely forgotten.

    Now, I’ll put my money where my mouth is:

    $5

    I want “Korgoth of Barbaria”

    Let me repeat: “I want Korgoth of Barbaria”.

    For $5, give me a show you’ll let sit in the vaults forever, and I’ll shut up and go away. And I mean the full rights to develop and produce the show myself. To make $ off the image, write new stories -and the e-mail of the Korean studio that did the monkey work.

    If I get that, I’ll be too busy to go as “Anti-mass media” as I’m planning to. I’ll be too busy proving you wrong, and even if I “Prove you wrong” I’ll be in the edge of “Mass media” so I can’t bite that hard.

    First, I’ll get an online cyber busking setup to get around $100K to animate it at least one season. And I can sit down and do lots of it on my own with ToonBoom. It’s not a Mizaki/Disney thing. I can draw Korgoth and rotoscope from Poser for the difficult sh-t. And I got a sick warped mind that could fill decades of Korgoth episodes in ways the audience would both crave but surprise them too. It’ll be mine, but I will put a “Thanks to —original artists/networks— for the initial concept” in the credits:-)

    If a TV station wants to air it, fine, I’ll share the money but I get to be open with advertisers; “Adbusters” wants to air an “Anti-Consumer” ad, fine, a local dominatrix wants to advertise fine, as with a Tattoo parlor, a “Medical Marijuana” one, etc…. IMO again, late night cable’s “Local Advertising” is not being exploited as it should be.

    And if nobody wants to air it, they can go to….

    What I’ll do is put it online on a pay-per view thing that lets people pay per episode, but since it’s my property no DRM, etc. After a year or so, it’ll be for online viewing with me selling ads on the online viewing and ‘cyberbegging’ for tips for the next project or just to ‘stick it to da man’… I can totally “Sell” the “Support what you like, take down big media!” and I’ll certainly earn well more than enough to justify the effort. Enough to retire early or if you networks do change your ways, perhaps a new career:-)

    Like I said $5. Let me pay you $5 and give me Korgoth, a product you probably wish never existed, and I’ll go away for a long time (like a year too busy on the project to do anything else) and if I “Come back” maybe I’ve proved my point?

    With respect, it’s probably costing you $ to own it, whoever does right now. All the YouTube posting that gets the fans rabidly wanting it, but some Shyster issues a DMCA takedown that gets it off for, 1 minute? then shrieks for $ for defending a property that didn’t ‘sell’? Sell it to me, I’ll put a “RIAA/MPAA, you do NOT represent me” notice that the first video “Belongs” to all the fans and then put teasers out as I cyberbeg for the $ to finish it and I’ll tell the fans all along the policies, etc. so they eagerly watch the show/pay for viewing, donate money, perhaps buy cheap horrible but cool merchandise, etc…

    • alisong76 says:

      I can’t believe I read all that. Shine on, you crazy diamond ;-)

      • greengestalt says:

        Hey, I’m only crazy in that I think there’s a “Lottery ticket” chance of the networks going “Yeah! Let’s trash this Korgoth Sh-t and have him deal with it!” I fear my “Conspiracy Theory” is right and they deliberately killed it just because they feared how awesome it was.

        Frankly, look how popular it is on YouTube… Now I’m sure YouTube’s made $ off the sidebar advertising for it, enough I’d argue that that alone said it should have stayed on late night showings. Also I’m sure my “Shyster” theory works, that is some guys issue “Copyright takedown” notices that get it pulled for …seconds… but then scream to whomever owns it that they somehow saved them money and want a check. It used to be actively taken down frequently, now it only disappears once in a while. Therefore, the networks are probably getting more and more hesitant to pay the copyright lawyers to get it taken down, but still do once in a while.

        If they let me own it, I’d prepare a “This first episode belongs to the people that matter, the fans!” notice for uploaders (who can also modify, parody, do music videos of it) to put at the forefront, including a threat of a lawsuit against the lawyers who try to get it taken down if they continue. I’ve set up some networks for law firms, and done some troubleshooting that literally saved one company $8 million, I’ve got a few “Favors” I could call if it came to that.

        So I’d put up an announcement, ‘teaser’ trailers I animated myself, and of course asking for cash for the “Project” with a worked out system of donations, the much higher ones getting the ‘end products’ for free or a reduced price. Even things like a “Limited Korgoth Talisman” for $100 donators and I’d make them ALL myself;-)

        Korgoth is immensely popular, despite the network killing it. Getting the rights and making announcements alone would be worth tens of thousands in free advertising.

        Call me crazy, but I realize that something is worth what you can get another person to pay for it. Therefore, I can profit from “Hype” then pay that back later, and I can adjust a business model as I go along.

        On “Copyright”, my idea is:

        1. Less than 6 months from first release… That’s when you call the “Pittman and Bullock” law firm on people. At the same time, you make sure there’s enough “Promotion” so that anyone who wants a taste gets it, from you or one of your mouth pieces.

        2. Within 2 years from first release… Still watch for “Piracy” but be “Cool” with fans that remain. They want to make AMVs on YouTube, go for it! If fans like my “Medallion” I’ll even make a “Honored Scribe” one, kind of a “Neo-No Prize”…sculpey’s affordable;-)

        3. After 5 years, if someone is hosting things on their own website, they should be paid $ for advertising for free, not that I will. If they are making $ off of it I’ll want some, but I’ll be sane and reasonable. If I made/owned a fiction called “Metal Man” that was a high budget grade B comic book movie, but somebody was streaming it 5 years later, I’d personally just say “Hey, put up an Amazon.com store link so we can ditch the DVD inventory at last.” Instead of thousands spent on a shyster to get a judgment one of the last fans could never pay, thank him for helping you and liking your product.

        4. In case of a new series/sequel/update to the franchise, tighten up a bit, but focus on protecting the new property. Let all the YouTube fanatics who made AMVs and parodies and “Live Action” like the “Thundercats” guys “Spread the word” and try to work out some ‘special’ that thanks them for advertising for you and supporting/buying your new product.

        I don’t need a network to show it. I’ll make a polite offer with reasonable conditions, but I’ll expect “No!” resoundingly. So I’ll show it online and earn money from fans, pay-per view, advertising and I can program my own sites thank you so it’s my rules.

        I am dead serious about this.

        Give me Korgoth, despite the sh-tty economy, I’ll take an extended leave from work, risk a lot and I’ll throw myself into it with the passion of the —- excuse me:-) I’ll prove the old media wrong by generating a lot of $ and likely a movie deal/second season from it. And if I kaplunk, I’ll at least have a sh-tload of fun and probably enough $ to start over.

        I’m waving $5.
        Korgoth’s giving someone else a headache…
        —did they have the guys that made it killed, if not fired?

        Can haz? Can haz? Can haz?

    • Beelzebuddy says:

      Why do you need to buy the rights to Korgoth? It’s not like it was original. Make your own over-the-top clone of Conan, call it Kronin the Barbariator, and run with it.

      And thanks for the curt non-answer, Craig. When you have to take a few hours of your time justifying the apparently entirely arbitrary decisions your employer makes, it’s a problem.

      Like a few posters up above have mentioned, your arguments seem suspiciously status quo for being someone who ostensibly wants to break out of the old paradigm. As if your real job is just to reassure your higher-ups that this internet thing is a fad that’ll blow over soon and they can get back to focusing on their half century old business model.

      • greengestalt says:

        >>>Why do you need to buy the rights to Korgoth? It’s not
        >>>like it was original. Make your own over-the-top clone
        >>>of Conan, call it Kronin the Barbariator, and run
        >>>with it.

        That’s actually what I might do…at least in a video game or such:-)

        I was “Just Fishing” here, but do have plenty of plot ideas I could work with. With Korgoth or some new property. Plenty of wild Sword and Sorcery action, lots of sex and pretty ladies, plenty of “Tribute and Parody” and just for fun I’d even put some of my own characters in the sides.

        It’s just that Korgoth still has that lingering fame. I could put plenty of my own ideas in it and still make episodes that’d be as good or better than if the original setup continued. The initial rush the buzz would give me would guarantee the financing from fan donations I’d need to get it off the ground.

        An animated series would still require money, even the Korgoth level low-brow, more not to starve in the time it takes, or to hire some out-sourced studio to fill in the blanks. But if I say got the property, got $10K in early contributions I could sit down with ToonBoom and make some “Parts” of the stories I’d animate and release them to YouTube as teasers while I advertised that way for more $, using the “Stick it to the big networks” theme.

        Frankly, the Japanese success of the “VCR” was caused by “Big Business” becoming plain complacent. They had this idea they sat on for 2 decades, only releasing it (those giant tapes) to the “Business” element and not going public with it despite knowing well it’s potential, just not caring. When some enthusiastic Japanese companies wanted it… “Oh, just take it and stop bugging me you -non PC term-”

        In cases like this I think they really will sit on this till doomsday just to kill any competition. Let’s say I did get this and succeeded beyond my wildest dreams, it was a big hit making many millions and I got tons of other offers. The networks would have to let good writers have their say so I (and other independents I might inspire) wouldn’t take all the wind from their sails/sales and they’d be in the position of having writers/artists/musicians who could dictate what they do again. They only want disposable hacks begging for any work, not real creative visionaries.

  36. Anonymous says:

    Citing one show in 28 years actually proves the point.

    How about three? The Dick Van Dyke Show. Newhart.

    • Antinous / Moderator says:

      “Citing one show in 28 years actually proves the point.” How about three? The Dick Van Dyke Show. Newhart.

      I don’t want to break your heart, but the Dick Van Dyke Show was canceled in 1966

  37. Muldfeld says:

    It’s not just “Cheers” that would be cancelled in the current climate. How about “The X-Files” or “Seinfeld” — 2 of the most successful series of their respective genres?

    It seems preposterous for the industry to be promoting the DVR, but then ignore that it will be used.

    Also, how about factoring in personal traits like courage and decency and wanting to be remembered as more than a money maker — qualities Mark Stern seems to possess compared to, say, Jeff Zucker or one of those folks seeing only the exploitable among viewers.

    What I still don’t comprehend is why “The 4400″ was cut, when its ratings seem largely a function of under promotion in its final season and, I sense, network pressure for more stand alones, which led to 5 weak episodes at the start of said season. “The 4400″ was growing increasingly unique and politically insightful under Ira Steven Behr in Seasons 3 and 4, but USA was uninterested in backing it, despite it garnering higher ratings than sister network Sci Fi’s BSG and obviously being produced with the cheapest budget imaginable. I’m still mourning its loss.

    • Osno says:

      Just found out that there are two books that complete the story of the 4400 and according to amazon commenters they’re good enough. Too bad the ebook is more expensive than the paper copy which is something that is OT here (mostly) but I still will never understand.

  38. Osno says:

    Wait a sec, just read that. You’re the digital guy??? Wonder what the analog guys (who’re supposed to not get it at all) say! Is it needed for your job to be so in the limitations of TV (schedule, slot, schedule, marketing – which IMHO is very different online -, Nielsen ratings)? Those things should be totally reinvented for the internet.

    Conspiracy theory: I just learnt about this Nielsen thingy, but it’s very similar here. Can it be that these ratings are easier to forge than the digital truth, and that drives advertising up or down?

  39. Man On Pink Corner says:

    We’ve heard of Napster and are not eager to see that happen to our business and are trying to figure it out as we go along.

    There’s nothing to figure out. Things like Napster happen because the networks refuse to sell consumers what they want. As demonstrated by the success of the iTunes model, piracy often isn’t a case of people demanding something for nothing. Rather, it’s an entirely predictable outcome when customers are told to follow a bunch of silly arbitrary rules (Timeslots? In 2010? Really?) if they want to watch a show. TV is like any other business… if you don’t serve your customers, someone else will.

    “Hello, Showtime (for example) — I like Dexter, and I have some money I would like to give you. Do not make me wait eight months after the end of a season before I can buy it on BluRay or stream it from Netflix. If you do that, you are stupid, and you deserve to lose money. Perhaps this is news to you, but I can get Dexter from a BitTorrent site the day after it airs. There is nothing you, your lawyers, or your lobbyists can do to change that. Get into the game and compete, already.

    And no, I am not going to subscribe to your channel, or to cable TV in general. That doesn’t work for me. Don’t complain when the pirates understand this fact and are willing to meet my needs.”

  40. Anonymous says:

    Bottom line, in the end, a TV networks product isn’t the shows, its the audience it sells to advertisers.

    Complaining about the business side of TV, and that they canceled your favorite show, is like complaining about the quality of bait a fisherman uses to catch fish.

    We’re the fish, if a majority of us, not just you goofy hipsters, started watching only good shows, only biting at good bait, the status quo would rise, things like Ghost Hunter would be off the air.

    But that’s not the way it is, get used to it, do your part, stay away from the sub-par bait, and sniff out the good stuff. That’s life in a capitalist system…

    And its miles better than the alternatives by the way.

  41. beeandcat says:

    Here’s the problem I see here:

    You say that to save a show we should watch it live. Ok. Is there some way you know if we do that?

    I am serious. If I knew that by watching a show live, not on a DVR or online, I was making a definite impact that you, the network people, could see, I would do it for all my favorite shows. But I’ve seen no evidence that there’s any way you guys can tell.

    The question is this: if the Nielson ratings are the standard and everyone has to use them, how does a non Nielson family make any difference by watching live vs. on DVR or online? I’m not saying “you guys should stop using the Nielson ratings,” you’ve made it clear why you have to use them. But can’t you also see why that makes us confused when you tell us to watch shows live in order to keep them on the air?

  42. Sean Eric FAgan says:

    If the network wanted a show to fail, they wouldn’t put it on the air.

    Except that “the network” isn’t a single-minded entity; there are lots of people involved in all sorts of departments, and lots of politics is involved.

  43. Ernunnos says:

    The whole point of 900 channels was to give niche TV a chance. But it turns out nobody wants to be a niche TV channel. You don’t advance your career by running the Bailey Building & Loan of television. So you have 890 channels all trying to be the other 10, and the niche viewers even more disappointed than they ever were. Before, they had no expectations. Now they’ve been promised one thing, and gotten pro wrestling instead.

    • Thac0 says:

      Wasn’t that the whole idea for Cable. Your paying for the channels so they don’t need advertising so they can program interesting things that might not have as broad of an appeal as broadcast TV?! There’s more commercials than ever and less interesting programs every year now…..

  44. JoshP says:

    We may disagree on the concept of what ‘art’ is, but television was invented and created for the sole purpose of selling 1950′s America and its related property back to itself and thus to the whole world.
    Now I normally would let that slide, except the monster is now starting loom higher than the cage walls, sorry dude.. yer evil.

  45. Anonymous says:

    I suppose all of those points are valid, but this doesn’t happen in the UK and shows still do pretty well. For example, it’s the norm to only get 6 episodes of a series once a year and the show still forms a dedicated following.

  46. Steaming Pile says:

    At Syfy we often take a hiatus between half seasons of our shows because airing all the episodes straight would mean a year-long break between seasons. Two half seasons every six months has proven a better way to keep viewer awareness up than one full season followed by a really long break.

    Case in point, The Sopranos. Excellent show. Long waiting times between seasons that became longer and longer to the point of getting ridiculous. We eventually canceled HBO because we couldn’t see continuing to keep paying the monthly fees for a premium channel where there was nothing on. Long waits were one thing; long waits with nothing to tide us over but reruns is enough to make you feel cheated and taken for granted.

  47. Azimouth4 says:

    Although in theory these things seem to make sense, I think that alot of the time the powers that be just don’t like a show cos it’s something they don’t watch and want to make more room fir inane drivel!

  48. roaneah says:

    I suppose all of those points are valid, but this doesn’t happen in the UK and shows still do pretty well. For example, it’s the norm to only get 6 episodes of a series once a year and the show still forms a dedicated following.

  49. Viadd says:

    Another one:
    Why do networks kill a high-rated show but keep a low-rated one?

    Money. (the default answer to all ‘why do networks… question)

    A cheap-to-produce show will be kept even if it has lower ratings than a show that has unnecessary exorbitant expenses (e.g., writers, sets, production values).

    A show that is owned by the network will be kept instead of one that is owned by an independent company.

  50. Anonymous says:

    Spikeles • #64
    Your in the minority. Put ads at the end of shows, and people will watch the show then change the channel, pure and simple.

    greengestalt • #67
    Why don’t you sell me that expensive thing you don’t use in your closet for 5$? If you think you could turn it into something that makes money, because its already worth money. Your just asking for a handout. Why can’t you come up with a concept on your own and pull off your idea?

    Muldfeld • #68
    Its all about risk, do they want to take a risk that it will eventually turn into something good? Most the time no.

    Man On Pink Corner • #70
    Things like Napster happen because people don’t want to pay for things. pure and simple. I download all my music and movies, and yea, I’ve got a lot of stuff I would have no idea about other wise. But I also quite buying CDs and DVDs all togather. Why do people keep lying to themselves about this fact? The main reason of Napster was free stuff.

    • greengestalt says:

      I say, “If you don’t use it, you lose it.”

      That’s one big thing we need to do with copyright law.

      If a company like Disney is continuing to sell and use their stuff, then sure for them extend copyright.

      On the other hand, there are tons of things that’ll be forgotten forever because any potential publisher (like a fan with a zine/webzine) will have a ton of trouble tracking down anyone who might own the rights and then get quoted out of reality prices on it. But, and often when they think they secured the rights, then some slithering slime crawls out of the woodwork and sues or threatens to sue. Some even do it falsely, knowing they face little or no consequence and just blackmail for money.

      Any thing in the media earns about 99% of all it will ever earn in 5 years. There are exceptions, but that’s by and far the rule.

      My idea is make any copyright on literature 14 years again from time of publication. The original author can re-publish in his lifetime and his heirs can twice 14 years after he dies. But if he sells the work, it’s 14 years. The publisher must then either make a ‘sequel’ or add to the work or lose it permanently. To get around any contract deals, he can ‘revoke’ any claim they have and they can’t sue him, regardless of the wording.

      I’d also allow a “Claim Jump” on an abandoned software/TV show if it’s pulled too quickly. Let someone file a claim on a canceled show, the network either finishes and makes available at least one season or they turn over all the work, materials, animation screens, computer files.

      This would force them to create new content. They couldn’t “Buy and sell the labor of others and sit on their laurels” forever. They’d need to keep relevant, competitive, to make new things and to hire new talent that they’d need to compensate well.

  51. Anonymous says:

    at the risk of sounding rude,

    why do shows produced on a limited budget seem to be so horribly written?

    I get that their is a balancing act between a shows budget, and advertising revenue (hence the ever growing trend to “reality shows” like Ghost Hunters, or say… putting pro wrestling in the line up).

    but there are many examples of shows with very limited budgets that have incredible writing ( Blakes 7 just to name one).

    Is the headlong rush to crank out low budget films and series so strong that no one actually fully reads or comprehends the scripting?

    As much as I wanted to support SciFi’s(pre SYFY rebranding) Flash Gordon revamp series, I could not, as much of the plot didn’t even make sense (water is rare on Mongo, is how Ming controls the populace, yet the capitol/only city on Mongo sits astride a cascade that rivals Niagara falls? huh? People smuggle water in blocks of ice wrapped in cheese cloth, not buckets?)

    Is it really more cost effective to produce low rent projects that insult the intelligence of the viewer than it would be to air classic genre films, or classic syndicated series?

  52. jerkzilla says:

    Oh, man. There are so many lies and half-truths in this article, I don’t know where to start. Really? “History has proven”? Really? Seinfeld didn’t even crack the top 25 until season 4. The X-Files didn’t crack the top 50 until it’s 4th season. The list goes on and on. As for wanting the show to fail? You’re really living in a fantasy-land if you think that suits don’t try to sabotage series on a regular basis. Don’t think it happens? Ask Kevin Smith about his Clerks cartoon. Or how about you guys with MST3K?

    • Anonymous says:

      jerkzilla,

      What are you on about? MST3k lasted 11 seasons. For ANY show that’s phenomenal, and for a niche show it’s downright spectacular. If the network wanted to sabotage it they could’ve done a lot more.

      And again, you’ve only thrown down another two shows. For every show we find that climbed in ratings over the course of its run, we could find 20 that dropped. THAT list goes on and on. Let’s start with V, which has gone from 14 million to 5 million viewers since ep 1. Or Dollhouse, which went from 4.7 to 2.6. Trust Me, where they didn’t even publish the dismal ratings of the last ep in Season 1.

      Actually, I’ll save you some time: do a Google search for “ratings drop”, and one for “ratings rise” and see the difference. It’s a HUGE risk to support a show that just isn’t getting ratings, on the hope that it picks up later.

    • alisong76 says:

      Another example would be Supernatural – that show hung on by its fingernails for four seasons, probably getting away with it thanks to its miniscule budget and the fact that the CW didn’t have a hell of a lot else apart from Smallville. It won a People’s Choice* award last season and oh, lookie here, all of a sudden the CW suits are acknowledgeing its existence! Oh hey, was that a *promo*? (Yes, I’m speaking from the perspective of a Supernatural fan – write what you know ;-))

      *I’m not convinced the award wasn’t thanks to the fandom mobilising much the same way Whedon fans managed to vote “Serenity” up to the “Movie of the Year” position in Australia’s Movie Show poll the year it came out, but when all the revered Neilsen boxes are placed in the homes of people who think The Footy Show and Two and a Half Men are great viewing, you do what you can.

  53. Michael E. Stamm says:

    In other words, William Goldman’s comment is as valid for TV as it is for movies: “Nobody knows anything.” (Just an observation, not a criticism; TV is what it is.) You might do a column on why cable channels can do things the traditional TV networks can’t (and I’m not referring just to FCC-imposed limitations).

  54. TheWiseLemur says:

    Hmmm…do I see a SyFy mini-series in the works here…evil TV execs that are controlled by aliens use line ups to manipulate their viewers and make them do unspeakable things like shop for 7 different types of kitchens knives under the threat of their favorite shows being canceled?

  55. Craig Engler says:

    Cable TV started out as a service to relay television to people in areas who couldn’t receive over-the-air TV broadcasts via antenna.

    • Thac0 says:

      Ooops yes your correct. I should have remembered that from school where i took classes for television production. I’m embarrassed. Sorry.

      It was for people in the US that lived in valley areas in mountainous regions. Because hill and mountains cause RF signals to have a shadow they had to place antennas on the tops of the mountains and run cable to the valley.

  56. Todd Knarr says:

    Two things I find crazy:

    1) Doing short runs of a show followed by long stretches of re-runs. I don’t mean a half-season run, I mean 3-4 new episodes and then nothing but re-runs of those episodes for 2-3 months. That’s one of the fastest ways I know of to get me to stop watching a show. It doesn’t matter how much I might like it, too much of the same thing makes me not like it really quickly.

    2) Rapid time-slot shifting. I don’t mean shifting the time-slot each season, or even once or twice a season. I fairly often see a show being moved to a different day and time every month. This seems to be closely associated with #1, so that by the time the next set of 3-4 new episodes comes around I’ve no idea where to find the show anymore. It’s not in it’s old time-slot, and after a month or two of not watching (because it’s all re-runs) I’m not really enthusiastic about rummaging about in the programming guide to figure out where it’s at now (assuming it’s even still on).

  57. Anonymous says:

    I don’t mind a hiatus because the show’s coming back in 6 months. I actually like the mini-season approach that Syfy, USA, TNT, etc. take because it allows for year-round original programming.

    But when a network pulls a new show off the air for several weeks or even months, whether they put it back in the same slot or give it a new one, that’s the signal the show’s toast.

  58. Anonymous says:

    Love your posts, Craig, and appreciate you being here. I’ve always been puzzled, though; you say:

    if they’re fast forwarding through commercials, the network isn’t making the money it needs from them to support the show

    How did we get from a model where creation and distribution of entertainment was paid for by advertisers, to a model where the consumer pays for the show and still has to watch advertisements? That paradigm absolutely guarantees that many people will attempt to subvert the ads, due to basic human nature. Why aren’t the distribution networks paying the content creators enough to eliminate ads, and charging back to the customer? That was the promise in the dawn of cable, yet now there are more ads than ever! Even on so-called “public” stations we see adds for corporations, thinly disguised as something else.

    • Antinous / Moderator says:

      How did we get from a model where creation and distribution of entertainment was paid for by advertisers, to a model where the consumer pays for the show and still has to watch advertisements?

      Newspapers?

  59. kingharlo says:

    I’m pretty sure that NBC did ALL of these to Freaks and Geeks… one of the best 1-season shows of all time.

  60. Anonymous says:

    I think, not being an insider this is just a guess, the best thing you could do to save your favorite show (if your not a Nielsen family) is to support the advertisers. Buy what ever it is their advertising and then send them thank you letters for exposing you to their great product during your favorite show. Also, tell them how your a compulsive buyer with lots of disposable income and will purchase anything with flashing advertising that is shown while watching your favorite show.

  61. Karl Elvis says:

    Craig, here’s the one I wanted to see answered that wasn’t in your piece; why are networks still playing the ‘sweeps’ game?

    Typically we see major networks all airing the splashiest, most lurid promos for the best (or at least most marketable) episodes, all the same weeks. The idea as I understand it is to compete for rating numbers in that fixed window.

    So everyone brings out big guns all at once, they all air specials or new episodes, or crossovers or whatever they think will haul in numbers.

    And then a week later they all go back to repeats or other filler.

    The question is, why are advertisers still buying the sweeps numbers, when they’re artificially inflated by non-standard programming? It gets really old for viewers to have 20 new shows one week, and then nothing but tumbleweeds the next.

    Thanks!

    • LSDave says:

      Here’s another question: if the content aired during sweeps week is what brings in the most viewers, and networks are motivated by ratings, why don’t they show that kind of content all the time?

  62. Ray says:

    Niche TV Doesn’t work and more importantly from a Producer point of view it DOESN”T PAY…

    Advertisers subsidize t.v. period…What they want is Bang for their buck…Niche TV doesn’t supply it. Niche programing works on the internet because the barrier to entry is low.

    Great articles btw Craig…Don’t always agree but definately enjoy

  63. Osno says:

    I’d love to read one of this posts and think “hey, this guy really cares for his audience/the art he’s producing”. Instead, all I read is “shows makes us money, we want more money, no money is not good for the show”. I kind of agree with all your points (except the Nielsens vs DVR thing, because I’m not seeing twitter chatter/other internet measurements in there). But I can’t shake the feeling that what you say only makes sense to the executives, that we as the audience are expected to simply understand that even though it has nothing to do with us.

  64. mn_camera says:

    And that, folks, is why it’s called show business.

  65. Fang Xianfu says:

    I often wonder what the people who say things like “Two half seasons every six months has proven a better way to keep viewer awareness up than one full season followed by a really long break” would think of British TV, where seasons are 6-8 episodes for the most part. Dr Who is a -LONG- season and it’s 13 episodes.

    And then you have to wait a whole year for the next one.

    And sometimes they take a year off and do specials instead.

    • Gloria says:

      I kind of find them annoying. Honestly. I mean, I’ll still keep up with a Brit show if I really, really love it, but I’m more likely to accidentally forget about it later.

      They’re nice later — when they’re a DVD set or a download, because it’s short and sweet and tidy. I like knowing I can have a brief commitment to a show. But to follow? Aggravating.

  66. Bionicrat2 says:

    I think most folks from the within the bizness would disagree with the last one. Healthy shows are certainly purposefully killed in many different ways.

    The internal politics within the network is one mucky bit left out of these pleasantly informative postings. I’m not sure that people are envisioning the corporate hierarchy and office politics that is comparable to many other fields and work places. Powerpoint presentations, nonsensical company mantras, and doing whatever your new boss says no matter how unqualified he or she is. Again, nothing special in any industry but in TV, viewers join in the workplace suffering.

  67. deckard68 says:

    “Anon #28, the best thing you can do is get more viewers to watch the show. Advertisers pay us based on the ratings.”

    Again, bad advice. No one knows if you or the people you encourage to watch are watching. The only way to effect the ratings is to get more Nielsen families to watch the show — and chances are, you don’t know ANYONE who is such a family.

    You could of course encourage people to watch on Hulu or to buy from iTunes or Amazon, but the article is unclear on whether the network cares about that or not.

  68. cmpalmer says:

    First of all, thanks Craig for this post, which may be the best of the bunch. Several of my explicit questions from previous posts and comments were answered, so my ego feels sufficiently boosted.

    I think we’ve all learned a bit more about how TV production and networks work (particularly in America), but we’ve also learned that, contrary to most American opinions, there are other valid ways of doing it that are successful in other countries.

    Above all, though, we hope that you (and the rest of the TV industry) realize that sometime, somewhere, someone is going to make an alternate model work and work well and then we’ll all look back on this time and say, “What the hell were we thinking?”

    One more thing, though…
    On the subject of tracking cable and DVR watching and skipping. I think the individual privacy people who want niche TV with accurate ratings are going to be screwed one way or the other. If you want accurate measurement of what people are watching and which commercials they watch, you’re going to have to put monitoring sw that measures minute-by-minute viewing habits.

  69. webmonkees says:

    Thanks, you did answer one of my questions, re show order, but that doesn’t make it any less crazy.

    Are upcoming episode ads created by the producers of a show or the network? if the network does, then please, experiment with ‘teasers’ rather than spoilers.

    Text. (still) Picture. Question. Picture. Text. Showtime info. Let _everyone_ be in the dark about an upcoming episode. Yes, the logic is that the ads are designed to draw in *new* viewers, but it annoys the regular ones.

    And reconsider the necessity of reminding people what show they’re watching as it airs. Some of us have more than 5 minute attention

  70. DrRufus says:

    I don’t get how commercial-based tv even exists anymore. People actually don’t click the remote or don’t go to kitchen/batroom, but actually sit and watch the commercials? and it influences them?
    (Battlestar Gallatica was amazingly good btw; while those made for tv syfy movies are incredibly unwatchable)

  71. Anonymous says:

    “2) If the show is doing badly but the network doesn’t want to just take it off the air, it gets put somewhere out of the way so it doesn’t hurt the shows around it.”

    I never understood this principle. I guess the marketing people have the numbers/statistics and numbers don’t lie.. but when I tune-in to Alien Hunter Show at 7pm, I’m definitely not going to watch Teddy Bear Maker at 8pm just because it is after my show….

  72. macrumpton says:

    The one that drives me nuts is all the networks scheduling their flagship shows all on the same night. Right now that night seems to be Thursday nights, and even though my DVR can record 2 different shows at the same time, somehow the networks manage to cram 3 shows I want to watch into the same hour twice in that evening. Meanwhile other nights like Monday, or even worse Saturday have nothing worth watching all night long.
    I am so ready for Hulu to become the normal way to watch tv.

  73. Anonymous says:

    The explanations here are generally are sound and reasonable, but he omits the biggest: TV executives make mistakes. These are guidelines or rationals for making choices, but it is the misapplication of these guidelines that leads to viewers thinking networks are crazy.

    For example, he provides 5 reasons for “Move a show to different timeslots”, yet doesn’t tip his hat to the possibility that they may not know what they’re doing and making a tremendous mistake. While one of the 5 reasons might be the impetus, it’s no guarantee of success. So when viewers see their favorite show move around, and then see the show shed viewers, reason #6 should be that the executives made mistakes. Mistakes that look like “crazy” to viewers.

  74. fletcher_katherine says:

    The real question is, if Nielson ratings rule, how do I get myself a Nielson box? Otherwise I basically don’t exist and you have no idea whether I’m watching your show, or the accompanying advertisements.

  75. Steve says:

    Craig,

    Thanks for writing this articles and actually responding to user comments.

    I’m sure you have heard this over and over, so it is still shocking to me that such a sensible person as yourself can still defend the name change for the SciFi network. I’ve read all justifications and I have yet to hear a single fan say that they like or appreciate the new branding.

    Just like “New Coke”, please realize the mistake and revert back to SciFi. It is OK to admit that one has made a mistake.

  76. Craig Engler says:

    Anon #92, we’ve been trying to figure out “fan funded” projects for years, as have many. On paper it sounds like it should work, but in the real world it’s not even in the ballpark, even for something relatively cheap like Webisodes (I know, I explored this avenue with the Henson Company to try to finance the Farscape Webisodes).

    Keep in mind, Syfy doesn’t do poorly. We just finished our best year in history with our most watched shows in history. Cable TV and pay TV doesn’t do badly. There are more pay TV subscribers now in the U.S. than ever.

    • Anonymous says:

      Thanks for answering my intro. You have never addressed the issues of advertisers, though. No one is asking for top secret information here, only general guidelines.

      Car and food commercials are mostly universal, but how does the neilsen thing affect commercial fees and placement for gadgets and shampoo?

      Are there, or should there be, more cosmetics ads during Stargate? Or more Viagra ads during Sanctuary?

      Those of us who are curious about your business model would like to know. Who do you even see as your market?

  77. tim says:

    So many of these issues are only true when stuck in the scarcity-of-broadcast-capability model. A ‘channel’ exists because it gets a license for some air-bandwidth. It has to fill it’s time. It juggles stuff to try to optimise the income made from that air-bandwidth.

    It’s a pointless model now. Scheduling is meaningless on the net – *except* in the sense of timing initial availability. Doing it all through iTunes (yeah yeah, hulu/amazon/joblo-video, whatever) obviates all the issues of slots and order and repeats and on and on. It even offers a way to get *real* viewer figures for a very likely better quality definition of ‘real’ than nielsen.

    You want a business model that allows channels to continue to live? OK, try this – Sy-fy (euch on that name) is a channel on iTunes. You subscribe and get access to all the shows it carries. No scheduling of showtimes, just the scheduling of what shows are in the lineup. Kind of like BB gathers a compendium of interesting posts. Rather than having to individually pull out shows from the vast wasteland of all-that-exists-on-the-telly-web you get an edited sampling that you enjoy because it is suggested by an editor you find trustable and like-minded.

    If Sy-Fy has hundreds of popular shows available it will probably be a fairly expensive channel to subscribe to. Fred’s “old BBC SF hits of the 70s” channel probably won’t be so expensive.

    • Man On Pink Corner says:

      Anon @81:

      Things like Napster happen because people don’t want to pay for things. pure and simple. I download all my music and movies, and yea, I’ve got a lot of stuff I would have no idea about other wise. But I also quite buying CDs and DVDs all togather. Why do people keep lying to themselves about this fact? The main reason of Napster was free stuff.

      Study after study suggests that you’re the exception rather than the rule, at least in the case of MP3 piracy. By and large, the people who download illegally are also the people who buy content.

      IMHO if you’re not at least somewhat unsettled about the ethics of your position, you should be. I download the shows I watch at the point when I want to watch them, and I’ll cheerfully use BitTorrent if I can’t use Netflix or iTunes. But if I do use BitTorrent, I’ll generally buy a legitimate license for the content as soon the owner deigns to sell it to me. If *nobody* gets paid the shows don’t get made.

      tim @88: Exactly. Craig, do *you* want to live in the sort of police state that will be required to enforce artificial scarcity in the content distribution business, going forward?

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