Thursday, March 13, 2008

Notice to age 18-30 viewers; Luddites resisting your influence

It is ironic that we are seeing headlines in the "media ad press" (here and here) indicating resistance to Nielsen's proposed A2/M2 integrated television and internet measurement. The irony is that reports of these Luddites are appearing on the day that rolls out for the general public. According to one newsletter (notice the use of the word "claims" rather than, say, "explains":

“Television today is no longer a distinct medium, but a form of information and entertainment that connects multiple platforms and reaches audiences at every possible touch point,” the Nielsen website claims. “With our Anytime Anywhere Media Measurement (A2/M2) strategy, we acknowledge again Nielsen’s important responsibility to the television industry. We recognize that a well-measured medium is a more valuable medium. And we understand that our measurements of emerging technologies will help the industry develop new business models.”

Nielsen wants a test this year. They ran into resistance in that few of the 14,000 test households were comfortable having their privacy infringed upon. So this year's test will be 375 households. If the test is successful, Nielson will expand its program in July 2009. Now they have to cope with resistance to the test from their customers - the folks who decide what TV programming wins the ad funding battle.

OK. I agree that the test data this year will be too limited for media buyer general use. But, to mix metaphors don't "stick your head in the sand" by thinking the Nielsen proposal is some dangerous "camels nose in the tent" that should be resisted. The Nielsen folks have it right. In case no one has noticed, total tv viewing is dropping, particularly in that all important 18-to-whatever younger category. (That doesn't include me, of course.) They're the same group that extensively use DVRs and are viewing video on the internet (you know, those "pipes" extending around the world).

Get with the program. As I explained in detail before, in the home entertainment business it's 1948 all over again with today's network broadcast tv being comparable to the old network broadcast radio. In less than ten years from 2008, broadcast tv will radically change from today as much as broadcast radio changed between 1948 and 1958.

Oh yeah, by the way Nielsen folks. By now we ought to be seeing daily the live-plus-7-day ratings, including cable channels. This should be reported in the media press right along with the "fast affiliate ratings". Why is that not happening? I know what we in our home are doing with our DVRs, and it appears from the occasional tidbit of information available that a lot of others are doing the same. The networks are making decisions about canceling shows we don't watch in the live+1 window, but always watch within 7 days. That's their choice. But the Nielsen Company has too much influence to not be transparent enough to allow us TV viewers to compare ratings results with our own viewing habits.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Hulu's General Launch - A VOD Source

As approaches its general audience launch tomorrow, the web industry pundits are offering up considerable criticism.

My suggestion? Let's all keep in mind that this is the TV industry, with emphasis on "industry". While it has been interesting to sit at a computer and watch something on beta, that's missng the point. Hulu is a TV video-on-demand source that can be run on your TV by simply connecting a computer appropriately. And it's a pioneer from that perspective.

The technology needed to consistently deliver quality streaming video is still experimental. Hulu is experimenting with HD. Bandwidth availability nationwide is weak compared to what would be needed for HD streaming. Do you wonder what HD web site might not suffer from bandwidth problems for Comcast ISP customers? Hulu's distribution partnership through Comcast’s Fancast, plus AOL, MSN, Yahoo, and MySpace, as well as its own web site, is clever.

For a TV VOD site, it's a strong beginning to create a "one-stop-shop". Other sites exist for the amateur or budding professional to display their wares. And the TV networks need to continue attracting viewers to their sites to promote new programming.

Let's all avoid the temptation to compare this experiment with YouTube or cable video-on-demand. It will mature in its own way.

In the meantime, take a look at the content on either directly or through its partners. Perhaps an episode of "House"?

Monday, March 10, 2008

Lipstick, Cashmere, and Rust

Last week "Lipstick Jungle" finished third in total viewers against a rerun of "Without a Trace" at #1 and "Eli Stone" at #2; and essentially tied for second in that 18-49 demographic. The last episode of "Cashmere Mafia" also finished third behind a new "Law & Order" and a rerun of "CSI: NY". It appears that generally the viewers are rejecting these shows.

"Big Shots" has already been canceled by ABC and its "Cashmere Mafia" is still in limbo even though the network has picked up a number of shows. Who knows what NBC will do with "Lipstick Jungle"?

I divide TV drama series into two categories - plot driven and character driven. Plot driven shows have a basic plot and attempt to build characters around it - like the L&O and CSI franchises. Character driven shows begin with characters to be developed. This can't be done without effective use of backstory which can't be done in three episodes unless there is only one primary character. Without backstory, you can't use common plot lines like struggling singles, marriage in trouble, mean competitors, etc., because they seem so trite and make the characters seem shallow. "Cashmere Mafia" and "Lipstick Jungle" have fallen into that trap.

In contrast, "October Road" begins using a strong backstory. (But writer Scott Rosenberg's story does have a true backstory (read here).) The show is slowly developing characters with depth. If it lasts more than two years going in the same direction, it would make a DVD box set drama lovers would like to own. Last week it finished a poor third behind a rerun of "CSI: Miami" and a new "Medium". Tonight is the second season finale. I fear it is the last season.

We own all the seasons of "Northern Exposure" on DVD and love watching them a second time around (despite the fact that Universal failed to obtain the DVD use rights to much of the music used in the show). The salient fact about "Northern Exposure" is that it didn't make it into the top 20 prime time shows until season 3. Character driven shows with multiple characters rarely do. Well-crafted ones used to be given a chance by the networks and viewers.

As a side note, plot driven shows don't automatically do as well as "24" and the two crime fighter franchises mentioned above. "Kidnapped" which NBC dropped after 3 episodes was a strong show. It could have gone on for years had it been scheduled and promoted cleverly.

It is disturbing to see the strong cast members of "Cashmere Mafia", "Lipstick Jungle" and "Big Shots" wasted. It's ironic that of the "rich-and/or-power-players" dramas currently showing, while there is no "gold standard" the CW's "Gossip Girl" might make "shiny copper" while the others barely make "rust".

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

The New 40 channel

It appears that The CW is struggling. Let's see - ages 18-34 aren't watching tv as much as they used to. So let's set up a channel for them. Great economic model. Not.

How about an AARP age group broadcast channel named "The New 40"? The national feeds could begin with a simulcast of the CBS evening news and end with a simulcast of David Letterman. And in between, feed shows that appeal to that age group acquired jointly with cable channels. Lower upfront primetime programming costs. Focused advertising.

Example shows to consider as models: Everwood (yes originally a WB show with terrific cross generational interaction), Mad Men (within memory period piece), As Time Goes By (really funny if you are over 40), Six Feet Under (even the old folks had sex before they died), 100 Centre Street (anything with Alan Arkin), Side Order of Life (only keep Joe Regalbuto and Susan Blakely in more episodes), Golden Girls, The Closer, Saving Grace, Monk, Huff, and Dancing with the Stars (if we have to have a reality show) to name a few.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Terminal City - A place to go for award winning drama

Sundance Channel will premiere "Terminal City," an award-winning Canadian miniseries about a cancer-stricken housewife who becomes a reality TV star, beginning March 6, 2008.

"Terminal City" mixes drama and dark comedy as it tells this story of a family facing not one but two major upheavals: cancer and overnight fame. Maria del Mar stars as Katie Sampson, a loving wife and mother of three with a zest for life, a sardonic sense of humor and a flair for the grand gesture. When a mammogram confirms a lump in her breast, Katie heads to the hospital for a biopsy -- and walks straight into a live broadcast of "Post Op!," a flailing reality TV show.

Katie's star quality is immediately apparent to producer Jane Richards (Jane McLean), and within days, the telegenic housewife is hosting her own daytime program on the Acetylene Network. While Katie conquers the airwaves, her devoted husband Ari (Gil Bellows of Ally McBeal fame) tries to maintain some sense of day-to-day normalcy amongst the family, which includes two bickering teenagers, 16-year-old Sarah (Katie Boland) and 15-year old Nicky (Adam Butcher), as well as precocious 7-year-old Eli (Nico McEown) and Ari's volatile father Saul (Paul Soles). In the weeks and months to come, Katie's celebrity and illness will accelerate in tandem, and the members of the Sampson family find their own ways to cope with a terribly uncertain future.

"Terminal City" premiered on Canadian television in October 2005, receiving critical acclaim and numerous honors during the 2006 Canadian awards season. In an article for Toronto's Globe and Mail, Gayle MacDonald wrote, "Landing in the same groundbreaking genre that includes HBO's 'Six Feet Under' and 'The Sopranos,' 'Terminal City' embraces taboo topics in a respectful, honest manner, and ends up leaving viewers eminently entertained."

Series star Maria del Mar was recently honored as the best actress of 2006 by ACTRA, the Canadian equivalent of SAG. "Terminal City" won eight awards in the Dramatic Series section of British Columbia's Leo Awards, including Best Series, Direction (Rachel Talalay) and Screenwriting (Fraser). Also receiving honors were co-star Paul Soles, who received a Gemini Award for Outstanding Performance by an Actor in a Featured Supporting Role in a Dramatic Series, and director Kari Skogland, who won the Director's Guild of Canada Craft Award for Outstanding Direction of a Television Series.