TV Today: Too Much of a Good Thing?

Posted by: Peggy Einnehmer
  • September 2, 2015
  • 4

toomuchtv_blog photoBeginning this month, the broadcast networks will launch 37 new series, of which only a handful will be hits.  For better or worse, the fall TV dynamic hasn’t changed in decades. But what has changed is that these 37 shows now comprise only a fraction of all new series available on TV and online. This has led to a debate, most recently in Sunday’s New York Times, about whether there’s “too much” television. And that was before news surfaced of Apple’s long anticipated (some would say feared) foray into original programming.

I would argue that there’s no single answer to this question, as it depends on who you are.

Let’s start with viewers. While some have said that viewers are suffering under the crushing weight of so much choice — not to mention fear of commitment to shows that may not last — I strongly disagree. It’s just TV after all. Today’s cornucopia of content means that we can afford to be more discriminating. In the good old days, we saw a promo and tuned in; now, friends and family need to tell us something’s good before we check it out.

It’s also a good thing if you’re a content creator, as there are more buyers for your wares. Broadcast networks, cable networks and SVOD (Subscription Video on Demand) services all have the ability to greenlight your show, and some are even willing to forgo the dreaded pilot testing process. It’s also a boon to the major studios, who have more parties competing for exclusive rights to the shows they produce. (Sure, the syndication business may be challenged, but now there’s also a market for serialized dramas, which never did well as reruns.)

On the other hand, for those in charge of linear TV networks, there certainly can be too much of a good thing. With greater choice comes greater audience fragmentation and declining Nielsen ratings. Yes, new series face competition from more broadcast and cable shows than ever before, but thanks to Amazon, Netflix and Hulu, they also compete against earlier seasons of these same shows, as well as critically-acclaimed (or not) original content. So unless a network is lucky enough to have a Walking Dead or Empire on its hands, it’s bound to see declines year over year.

So what’s the answer? While I can’t say for sure, I do expect this problem to be relatively short-lived.  While the explosion of professionally-produced content is putting pressure on today’s TV ecosystem, far bigger changes are in store when today’s tweens and teens become tomorrow’s adults. I fear that the current content explosion will seem like a blip on the radar when a generation that came of age watching the likes of PewDiePie, Smosh and BlueXephos is in charge of the remote (or whatever replaces the remote). Fortunately, I’ll be enjoying my retirement, watching reruns of Seinfeld.

  • MK
    September 13, 2015
    The increase of TV choice has also affected social interactions over the years. In the past, when there were only a handful of shows to watch (such as M.A.S.H. or Hawaii Five-O), everyone would watch the same thing at the same time and then discuss it with their co-workers and friends the next day. With an increase in choice comes a segmentation of TV-talking groups, as well as this occuring mainly online or via text.
  • GM
    September 8, 2015
    I think that networks need to follow Amazon's lead in making content easily available offline. Although limited networks have allowed Prime members to download old seasons of shows onto Fire tablets, only Amazon has mentioned wanting to make their shows available on iOS and Android devices for offline viewing. This move is likely done because Amazon is aware of the struggle to catch eyeballs and is open to any ways of making it easier for consumers to do that. My bet is that this will be the norm in 5 years or so, as networks react to the proactivity of the new players.
  • Nancy Schofield
    September 3, 2015
    Yes, and good for actors and all those other "content creators" who support our local economy!
  • Jon W.
    September 2, 2015
    It's interesting thinking about how my viewing behaviors have changed over the years. Perhaps it's due to having less time available, or the proliferation of content and viewing platforms, but I'm far more selective and reliant on WOM than ever before. And if I've "missed" the beginning of a show that's gaining traction, I'm able to seamlessly catch up and avoid being too far behind pop culture!

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