by Steve Lanzano
President and CEO, TVB
Surprised? You shouldn’t be.
Perhaps this is due to the annual onslaught of “Is Broadcast Dead?”-type headlines that surface around this time of the year. Assassinated by cable, done in by digital, suffocated by streaming, broadcast has finally cashed in this year. Again. Well, let’s take a quick exam before calling it, (as millions of us have seen them do on Grey’s Anatomy on a weekly basis), shall we?
First, let’s check the Peoplemeter’s Vital Signs. Are people watching broadcast anymore?
The marketplace has expanded, creating increased demands upon people’s time spent with media. Simply put, there are more choices out there for people beyond broadcast television. In spite of that, there is no other medium that delivers the scale of ratings than broadcast TV. Ratings may not be what they were 10 years, 20 years ago. But neither is the ecosystem. That world doesn’t exist anymore, so drawing comparisons to it when viewers have so much more to choose from is futile.
With that said, people still spend more time each day watching television than any other medium – about 42% more time than the Internet. In fact, due to the growing trend towards second-screening, part of viewers’ Internet time is simultaneously being spent with TV content. It also happens to be the most common topic on social media (“We come not to bury Broadcast, but to tweet him…”).
Furthermore, if you look at the Primetime viewers for the six broadcast networks (ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX, CW, Univision) versus the top six Primetime cable networks (USA, ESPN, Fox News, Nick/NAN, History, TBS), you’d discover that broadcast averaged 33,349,000 total viewers, while the cable nets averaged 10,799,000 total viewers. “Cable” only becomes relevant by aggregating the 81 measured cable networks, leveraging fragmentation.
Scale – and viewership – remains securely the domain of broadcast.
Broadcast is the only place to find signature “event programming” such as the Super Bowl, Oscars, Grammys, or even the Kentucky Derby. Each continues to post gains each year they air.
Prime was far from doom and gloom. Each of the broadcasters had new breakout hits this season. NBC had big buzz with Revolution, Fox brought Kevin Bacon to TV with The Following, ABC had scripted country music drama with Nashville, CBS reimagined Sherlock Holmes in Elementary, and the CW gave us another superhero in Arrow. Univision delivered remarkable primetime ratings success, particularly with two telenovelas – Por Ella Soy Eva and Abismo de Pasion.
Every week, 95 of the top 100 programs are broadcast programs, although Walking Dead and Duck Dynasty are grabbing headlines, they’re actually the extreme outliers of cable programs. In reality, it’s more typical for a successful cable show to deliver a single rating point. In broadcast, that will get you canceled.
Some of the biggest television headlines weren’t even about Primetime programming – they were about Late Night. It’s been announced that in 2014, top Late Night ratings producer Jay Leno is set to leave NBC’s Tonight Show – again – paving the way for Jimmy Fallon to move up to 11:30, joining ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel who just moved to the earlier slot this season as well. Saturday Night Live’s Seth Meyers takes over for Jimmy Fallon, while on CBS, David Letterman and Craig Ferguson just keep doing what they’re doing. Dave even showed up at the CBS Upfront this year, something he just doesn’t ever do.
Wasn’t this supposed to be the year that Conan O’Brien changed Late Night?
Not to be overlooked should be Early Morning, as the network morning shows produced their own share of headlines – whether it was hosting carousel of the Today Show or the emotional return of Robin Roberts to Good Morning America.
Perhaps the most significant success of broadcasting during this or in fact, most seasons is in local broadcast news. But this season in particular showed market after market displaying exemplary professionalism during many different types of breaking news ¬– whether it was the natural devastation of Hurricane Sandy, the explosive terrorist attack in Boston, the horror house of the kidnap victims in Cleveland, or the inexplicable school slaughter in Newtown. Local broadcast news crews in these markets rose up to meet the challenge of delivering needed information to their communities in spite of facing the unthinkable. And in doing so, each time they became the go-to resource for the larger national and global communities.
So whether it’s for specials, top-tier Primetime programming, Late Night, Early Morning, or local news, at every turn broadcast demonstrates the ability to entertain, inform, and connect. As Les Moonves said, “we pull together mass audiences like no one else can.”
It is still the largest part of the evolving media ecosystem.
The fact is, broadcast is alive, well, and flourishing, no matter how many people try to “prove” otherwise.