Have Networks Come Up With an Answer to DVRs?

Feb 22, 2013  •  Post A Comment

Network television, hit hard by time-shifted viewing on DVRs, is reportedly placing renewed emphasis on what it sees as a possible solution to the problem: live programming.

The Hollywood Reporter calls the trend “the eventization of TV.” The publication notes: “With nearly half of viewers now watching scripted comedies and dramas on a delay, sports, late-night talkers and awards shows might be the last frontier for big ratings.”

The report adds: “At a time when nearly half of all U.S. homes have DVRs, networks are shelling out an estimated $7 billion for rights to air NFL games, awards shows are popping up all over the dial, and there doesn’t seem to be a major cable network that isn’t exploring a foray into topical late-night.”

As an example, the piece cites CBS’s announcement a week ago that it is investing in Mark Cuban’s fledgling cable venture AXS, which is focused on live programming.

“Advertisers, too, are clamoring for such opportunities in a fractured, ad-skipping environment, shelling out $444 million on awards shows and live nonsports events in 2012, up 22 percent compared with five years ago, according to Kantar Media,” the story reports. It adds that 30-second spots in this year’s Oscars have sold for as much as $1.8 million.

E! President Suzanne Kolb is among those “chasing live,” the report notes. Says Kolb: “There’s a real hunger for that [live] experience, which in some ways has been further fueled by the growth of DVR.

Adds Cuban: “In today’s world of social media, live TV starts the conversation that lives on Twitter and other social networks.”

“Style network this year will debut a live fashion and advice show, ‘Pop Style,’ and the cable late-night landscape continues to swell,” THR reports. “FX has a new live iteration of ‘BrandX With Russell Brand’ as well as ‘Totally Biased With W. Kamau Bell.’ Bravo has added a Kathy Griffin offering and expanded ‘Watch What Happens Live’ to a Sunday-through-Thursday strip. TBS is developing companion efforts for ‘Conan,’ and E! tried (and failed) with the ‘Chelsea Lately’ complement ‘Love You, Mean It With Whitney Cummings.’”

The piece notes the success of AMC’s “Talking Dead,” a live recap show about “The Walking Dead,” which attracted 4.1 million viewers for its Feb. 10 episode and has been expanded to a full hour for the remaining episodes this season.

Joel Stillerman, executive VP of original programming at AMC, said: “There’s an energy that comes from [live] that is hard to define. The whole idea is to create an event atmosphere. There’s something that is just a little better and a little more energetic when you’re counting down to a live broadcast.”

AMC may add something along the same lines associated with its series “Breaking Bad,” the piece notes.


  1. Unfortunately, “almost live” is just as good as “live” if your DVR has two tuners. My wife is so good with our TiVo remote control that she can juggle the two DVR buffers to follow two shows at once. Whenever the live show goes to commercials, she rejoins the other show until it goes to break, and then she returns to “almost live” without missing any of either show. Amazing to watch her skip past the ads. People will do almost anything to avoid commercials. Technology will kill the networks, regardless their strategies to force-feed commercials.

  2. Whether or not a show is broadcast live doesn’t mean a thing. If it’s broadcast, it can be recorded and watched later.
    And what’s the hubbub about DVRs anyway? You would think that was the very first device that would record TV. Anyone remember VCRs?

  3. I would love to see networks start doing live sitcoms again. The final season of “Will & Grace” would have been great if done live. I could easily see “Two and a Half Men” live. There are a lot of possibilities.

  4. Whether the program is “live” or not, if it is 1 hour long I tune in mid way and then watch the show in 35-40 minutes. If it is the Superbowl, I’m at dinner for the first 90-minutes. Normally skipping spots will put me live in the last 1-2 minutes of play. Wha-la I controlled my life not the other way around. By the way, due to actually watching the new commercials (the only time I do or watch pro football) during the game I skipped the blackout drama.

  5. Things That Are Bigger Problems for Network TV Than DVRs:
    * Capricious Programming. Between outright cancellations and hiatus/retooling, network TV has proven to be a wholly unreliable place to invest my time. I will not be jerked around and this is one reason I prefer TNT, TBS, USA, SyFy, etc. — once they present a new season of a show, you can pretty much guarantee that they will run the full season.
    * Alienation. News programming has a big credibility problem in presenting only one side of the picture, and this is increasingly spilling over into entertainment programming. If producers, writers and actors feel so strongly about a cause, they should invest their own time, money and vocal support to it, rather than lecturing those who viewers in their audiences who disagree. Prime-time TV is actively insulting and alienating half of its potential audience, and yet they can’t figure out where all the viewers have gone. They are not nearly so smart as they think they are.
    * Local Station Issues. In my experience, local stations have a terrible time getting basic things correct, particularly as it relates to ensuring HD feeds are presented properly and that surround sound is transmitted correctly. They also actively pre-empt favorite programs in order to hijack high-rate advertising slots for worthless programming. They also sensationalize and monopolize prime time for coverage of bad weather, either pre-empting shows or interrupting them repeatedly for the same 10 minutes of information over, and over and over again. Many stations run school closing notices that take up 50 percent of the screen real estate when a small crawl could accomplish the same thing.
    All of these things are a turn-off. I haven’t watched a single new show for the current fall network season, and I doubt that I ever will again.
    I have FAR TOO many other interests and options to be jacked around by the networks and local stations.
    Adios, losers.

  6. While I don’t agree with every individual point made, I have to agree with most of your commentary.
    And let me add to it: ever shortening seasons of shows… I’m looking at you, CSI: New York. Airing your season finale in February… really?? Is anyone even going to remember the show come next September, October, November, whenever?
    And ever longer mid-season breaks… the delays for Grimm and Revolution are absurd. The typical delay of four to six weeks is far too long as it is.
    And I’m not letting PBS out of this, either. I perfectly understand the necessity of pledge breaks and that they vary from station to station, but they are getting out of hand. I think mine has them every eight weeks or so… making watching a show like This Old House a frustrating experience. If you have multiple channels is it really necessary to use most of them for pledging? Is it also necessary to preempt regular shows completely. It’s gotten so bad, it makes me want to NOT pledge.

  7. I agree with you about capricious programming decisions, but I have to disagree over a broadcast network’s supposed political slant — which these days mainly means NBC because of the left-leaning slant of MSNBC.
    Frankly, I don’t get it.
    The networks are all owned by giant corporations, which hardly makes them liberal bastions. And for every “liberal” show (I’m guessing those featuring positive portrayals of gay characters) there are at least two or three procedurals which are usually pretty conservative (including TV’s #1 show, NCIS).
    Broadcast television has its problems, mostly due to a general distain for its audience and (in the case of NBC) completely losing track of what it’s “brand” was.
    A final thought for my conservative friends out there: If I don’t have a problem watching FOX’s entertainment programming, you shouldn’t have a problem watching NBC…

  8. I wasn’t thinking specifically about gay depictions, but since you bring it up, I think it is part of the problem in that there are far more gays on television than in real life. A Gallup poll was recently conducted that asked Americans what to estimate what percentage of the population is gay. The mean response was 25%, when in fact, it’s somewhere between 2% and 5%.
    How do polled Americans get this so spectacularly wrong? I think at least part of the explanation is the way stories about gays and the gay lifestyle are pushed ad nauseum by news and entertainment media. Too much of anything will eventually produce a backlash, and I have no doubt that it’s causing many viewers to tune out. This media mindset is sort of like a little kid who gets a plastic toy hammer for his birthday — for the next few weeks, everything the kid sees looks like a nail. The difference is, the little kid tires of the fantasy and moves onto other things; the media, not so much.
    I agree that FOX, for all practical purposes, is indistinguishable from the other entertainment networks in that it has about the same ratio of good/garbage TV. Not sure what your point is there.

  9. I meant to add to my previous comment how the Tea Party is depicted negatively versus Occupy Wall Street getting positive play. I think that captures the real media/entertainment slant in a nutshell, much more so than gender issues.
    The Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street are political issues, and when those are depicted in a one-sided way in entertainment programming, there is going to be a negative reaction from certain viewers. I have no problem with topical entertainment, but when the presentation is repeatedly one-sided, that not about promoting a dialogue or making people think — it’s beclowned, bare-knuckle propaganda.

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