Jan 20 2010

How More Content Leads to Better Content

Published by at 7:53 am under televison

NBC’s Jeffrey Zucker is being attacked for his now-obvious misstep in moving Jay Leno to the 10 PM slot.  Leno has not done well in the slot, and NBC affiliates are screaming bloody murder that their lead-in to their 11 PM news slot (the most profitable broadcast of the day for most affiliates) has been decimated.

So, Zucker is pulling the plug, and the whole grand experiment of a chat show in primetime will come to an end.

But, while this experiment may have gone awry, it doesn’t mean that the long-term trends have changed.

Television has an impending advertising crisis. Cable has two revenue streams – subscription fees (each channel gets a part of your cable bill every month), and advertising. The networks only have one revenue stream – advertising. Historically, the cost of advertising was based on the popularity of the show, but it’s very difficult to determine the popularity now that DVRs have crossed 30% penetration, people watch shows on Hulu, and DVDs make it easy to avoid the actual broadcast altogether.

In this state of flux, it’s very tough to predict the value of each advertising spot, and that value is starting to erode.

In this context, NBC considered what would be a draw for near-live television.  Was there a compelling reason to tune in to a daily show vs. a pre-recorded program? The answer appeared to be “yes” – shows like the Oscars, Grammys, and sporting events continue to perform well because the TV brings a real-time event into your home. So, from that standpoint, it was a worthy experiment. Maybe 5 hours per week of primetime chat shows was too much, but on its face, it had the potential to pay off.

The problem was that the new Leno show wasn’t very good. And, people didn’t want to watch it. So, we’re going back to the way things were.

But, cheaply-produced content will continue to proliferate. We see a lot of it with cheap reality shows like The Bachelor and Jersey Shore, and also with millions of cats playing with balls of string on YouTube (not to mention Likeness quizzes on Facebook!). As more people have access to content creation technology, and content creation literacy increases, the amount of stuff to waste time with will only increase.

However, this is not a race to the bottom. Because, counter intuitively, the sheer quantity of crap content creates a yearning for high quality, highly produced content. We have increased our ability to consume content so dramatically, that we have a much higher capacity for the good stuff.

There are many, many more quality dramas on television than ever before – The Sopranos, Dexter, Breaking Bad, Man Men, The Wire, Deadwood, Battlestar Galactica, The Riches, and Damages just to name a few. Look back at programming 10 or 20 years ago, and try to find even half the level of quality shows, and you will see how radically the television landscape has changed.

The rise of reality television and live events causes a backlash in search of quality, therefore the appetite for quality consumption increases along with the entire content universe. The good stuff will always be a tiny percentage of the total, but both grow together.

So, bring on The Real Housewives of Orange County. I celebrate each time TV sinks lower – because I know that it will spur the industry to greater heights.

One response so far

  • carynmurphy

    I agree with you – and I would like to add two things. One, broadcast networks, led by Fox, are also increasingly negotiating fees from cable subscribers – this will possibly be the biggest factor that will allow for the continued production of “quality” television. Cable programming gets an increasing amount of attention, but the majority of production dollars, development time, and hours available for original content are all in the broadcast arena.
    Two, the cable model has allowed for the creation of some amazing stuff, but a threat on the horizon is the “a la carte” model. It's good for the consumer to have choice, and being able to choose which cable channels you want to subscribe to and pay for is fantastic. But it necessarily means that a lot of cable options will disappear, because they won't have the subscriber support necessary for a healthy bottomline.