Thursday, July 23, 2009

Television schedules

Here's a question for you - If you were planning to broadcast a programme at 9pm that had a potential audience of 1m and you learned that a rival was broadcasting a show that would attract the same audience at the same time, what would you do?

For me the logical answer is to show it at a different time and yet with regularity I find all the major broadcasters showing the same time of show at the same time as each other. If the goal is for higher ratings (i.e. a large audience) wouldn't it make sense not to broadcast shows that could split the pie into smaller slices?

At first this seemed illogical until I realised that ratings aren't the goal it's revenue and that comes from advertising. But still why would this affect things, after all in this technologically adapt age we know longer need to light candles and sacrifice chickens to get the recorder to work (although if it meant the broadcasters started at the times they state they will I'd give it a shot). But there is a difference between live and recordings.

When watching a programme live and the adverts come on you have three major options available

  1. You change channels or,
  2. You do something else or,
  3. You watch them.
There's enough of an audience in option 3 to sustain advertising, but what if it's a recording? Well the same three options are available, however you're less likely to change channels (if at all) and you can pause it when you like so no need to use the adverts as 'breaks'. This would seem ideal for advertising by pushing everyone into the 3rd option, except a fourth is added

4. You skip or fast-forward through them.

Advertisers hate recordings for this reason, and, I think, it is for this reason that adverts are getting brasher - they're trying to pack their entire message into the single blip you see as you speed through them.

So scheduling makes sense in the light that they want to put their best programmes on at a time when people can watch them live rather than record them. It also puts a new emphasis on the constant calls that we can watch programmes when we like from the various players available online because they don't allow you to fast-forward through the adverts. It's like watching it live, but whenever you want.

So best times = higher ratings = higher charge for advertising = more revenue. All makes sense; that is it makes sense for commercial channels. So why do the BBC play the same game? Because they're idiots, no okay that's unfair they've been conned into playing the same ratings game in order to prove their value and have been taking the same lessons from the commercial channels to do it. Except they haven't grasped the reason that the others do it this way.

Provided it's advertised well there is no reason (other than watershed) for the BBC to play the competition game and schedule any of its programmes at peak times 'against' the competition; in fact from the very first point I made in this entry its actually a detriment against them as their potential audience gets split 2, 3 or even 4 ways.

If the programme is good enough, the audience will find it. In fact the only time this fails is when the broadcaster themselves decide to seriously f**** it up by shifting it around the schedules, but with series link technology even that's less of problem than it used to be.

So a message to the BBC - stop playing the competition's game and stop thinking of BBC1 and BBC2 as major and minor channels. Put programmes on when they don't clash with the rivals and advertise them well - you don't need to care when people watch them, you don't need to care that they can fast-forward through them so stop thinking it matters and watch your ratings go up.