Editorial: Networks Must Woo Viewers Back to TV

Mar 16, 2008  •  Post A Comment

It’s coming up on gut-check time for the broadcast television networks, as they get ready to restart original episodes of shows that were sidelined by the Writers Guild of America strike.
Will viewers return? As noted in this issue of TelevisionWeek, the networks are keeping their expectations in check. And with good reason. Audiences have delivered the same lesson repeatedly in recent TV seasons: Once a network damages its relationship with viewers by delaying episodes, it’s very hard to win those eyeballs back. The ratings dip suffered by audience favorite “Lost” after its lengthy hiatus last season illustrates the point.
The moment seems to call for broadcast TV to pull out the stops to woo back a public that understandably has been put off of the medium by the strike. The year-over-year ratings decline in the February sweeps period should sound the alarm, and network executives should listen: Desperate times call for desperate measures.
What’s needed is an unprecedented marketing push to get people excited about prime-time television. NBC is doing the right thing, using signage in Times Square to pump up interest in its returning shows. But a piecemeal approach will yield piecemeal results. The networks should realize now is the time for investment, and they should bolster advertising through all mediums to let the public know that after a regrettable absence, they’re back.
The downside to a massive promotional campaign? Well, cost, of course. But a quarter-to-quarter analysis is inappropriate in these circumstances. Broadcast television needs to understand that the 100-day programming stoppage during the strike is likely to be a touchstone moment in the history of the business, and that absent a massive push to win viewers back, they probably will trickle away.
The historical analogy? The last writers’ strike 20 years ago, which pushed broadcast viewers to cable. That was good for cable, but all elements of the industry—cable, broadcast and syndication—need to be at optimal health in this difficult media market.
The difference today is that competition is more intense than ever for viewers, and broadcasters are pushing out the same old product. Now, prime-time shows compete against robust first-run cable programming and a flood of Web video and video games that were unimaginable 20 years ago.
An inside observer of the television industry recently said in a conversation that he doesn’t think prime time is going to bounce back and that the networks seem to be on the wrong side of their historical curve. If true, it’s lamentable. But if they don’t move aggressively to woo back viewers, television executives can be sure which way their ratings will trend.


  1. The other reason people are not watching TV is the shows, the TV stations make the statement that they are looking for viewship in the 18 to 49 slot.
    Well the shows that are on show it is all the 18 year old and the good shows are being cancelled.
    Get a lesson 18 year olds are out with there friends and just like the exec when they were 18 could care less what is on TV this is not the generation where TV is something new these kids were raised with TV.
    Take a look at the shows on cable vs regular TV please MONK, THE CLOSER, PSYCH and many others these are good shows and now look at the ones on reg tv please
    One last thing to write please IMPROVE

  2. Can someone explain to me why broadcast with a smaller audience is able to charge a premium over cable?

  3. Simple: Reach. Broadcast television has more reach than cable, since the broadcast networks are available over-the-air and anyone at home with a TV can pick it up, thus it’s available in more homes. In Chicago believe it or not, only 2/3 of area homes (within the city limits) have either cable or satellite.

  4. Keep focusing on your blog. I love how we can all express our feelings. This is an extremely nice blog here 🙂

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