Daily Updates

October 18, 2013

Live events proving worth for networks

NEW YORK — Television executives are looking for more than hot actors these days. They’re searching for the next Nik Wallenda.

With ratings for Wallenda’s tightrope walks across Niagara Falls and the Grand Canyon in mind, networks are taking meetings from people pitching programs about cars flipping over, or an attempt to set a record for simultaneous skydives. They’re all on the hunt for the next big event.

Social media and television’s economic system have given rise to a counterintuitive trend: The more opportunities there are for people to watch TV on their own time with DVRs and video on demand, the more valuable programming that can deliver a big live audience has become.

It’s not just stunts. Live sports, awards shows, singing competitions and the Olympics are all examples of programs that networks consider DVR-proof.

“The larger the event, the more buzz-worthy it becomes, the more social it becomes and it breaks through the clutter,” said Andy Kubitz, ABC scheduling chief.

Wallenda’s walk across Niagara Falls last year was a Top 10 show that week for ABC. An average of 10.7 million people saw him on a tightrope stretched over the Grand Canyon in June — the most-watched live event in Discovery’s history.

Watching ruefully from his office was NBC executive Paul Telegdy, whose network partly paid for Wallenda’s tightrope. NBC had been planning to air it, but Telegdy said his bosses at the time got cold feet.

“The Voice” and, in particular, the London summer Olympics taught TV executives that social media conversations about programs can create excitement and build a larger audience. That’s true of taped programs, but much more so with live events.

Building a big live event was the idea behind “The Million Second Quiz,” which NBC aired over two weeks in September. The competition was live, and viewers were encouraged to play along on their tablets at home. The show was a critical failure and didn’t meet NBC’s commercial expectations, but it still reached more people than the reruns that would otherwise be shown. Telegdy said it’s important to take such risks, as NBC will do over the holidays with a live production of “The Sound of Music.”

“If somebody has a big, crazy and ambitious idea, they’re going to call me before they call other places,” he said.

Networks love programming that makes news — a stumbling celebrity on “Dancing With the Stars” or cringe-worthy audition on “American Idol” — to create the aura that people who don’t watch live are missing something.

Awards shows are dependable draws, even more so in recent years. Networks try to stretch the experience by making red carpet shows or, in the case of the Grammys, a performance show built around the announcement of nominees.

Sports are becoming more visible in prime-time. NBC’s fall schedule flows from its Sunday night NFL game. Saturday night, once the outpost for reruns or “America’s Most Wanted” on Fox, is now dominated by football games. Fox is looking forward to airing World Cup soccer.

Scripted dramas can become events of their own with cliffhangers, bold plot twists or special guests. A program that pushes its way into the national conversation — think of the brutal “red wedding” episode of HBO’s “Game of Thrones” — is pure gold.

AMC’s “Breaking Bad” series finale and “The Walking Dead” season premiere qualified as big events that many people had to see when they first aired. It’s ironic, then, that much of their popularity is attributable to delayed viewing by people who discovered the shows on streaming services.

“To be able to put on a program that week in and week out viewers must see that day — that is every broadcast networks’ goal,” said Dan Harrison, a planning and programming executive at Fox.

Networks don’t dismiss people who record shows to watch later; it’s just that the business isn’t set up to reward that practice. If you record “The Blacklist” and watch Saturday night, the Nielsen company doesn’t count you in the calculations that are used to determine how much advertising revenue a show gets. Only people who watch a playback or video file within three days of its airing are counted, and only if they don’t fast-forward through commercials. The surest way to be counted is to watch live.

With the three-day limit in mind, CBS has even taken to advertising some programs the day AFTER they air, said David Poltrack, research chief.

Some advertisers pay extra to reach live viewers because they’re considered more passionate consumers, or tailor advertising campaigns to live programs.

All contribute to an inescapable fact: “The value of live viewing has gone up,” Poltrack said.


EDITOR’S NOTE — David Bauder can be reached at dbauder@ap.org or on Twitter @dbauder. His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/david-bauder.


Text Only
Daily Updates
  • US weighs clemency for inmates jailed for 10 years

    The Justice Department is encouraging nonviolent federal inmates who have behaved in prison, have no significant criminal history and have already served more than 10 years behind bars to apply for clemency, officials announced Wednesday.

    April 23, 2014

  • High court tosses $3.4M award to child porn victim

    The Supreme Court on Wednesday rejected a plea to make it easier for victims of child pornography to collect money from people who view their images online, throwing out a nearly $3.4 million judgment in favor of a woman whose childhood rape has been widely seen on the Internet. Two dissenting justices said Congress should change the law to benefit victims.

    April 23, 2014

  • Airport security vulnerabilities not uncommon

    For all the tens of billions of dollars that the nation has spent on screening passengers and their bags, few airports made a comparable investment to secure the airplanes themselves.

    April 23, 2014

  • Deal signs bill expanding gun rights in Georgia

    Gov. Nathan Deal has signed legislation expanding where people with licenses to carry can bring their guns in Georgia.

    April 23, 2014

  • Indian film awards arrive in Tampa, Fla., but why?

    The so-called Bollywood Oscars have been held in Macau, Singapore, London — and now, Tampa?

    April 23, 2014

  • Indictment: Prosecutor targeted in kidnapping plot

    A North Carolina prosecutor was the intended target of an elaborate kidnapping plot, but the kidnappers looked up the wrong address on the Internet and abducted the prosecutor’s father instead, according to an indictment released Tuesday.

    April 23, 2014

  • Republican activists push party on gay marriage

    As bans against gay marriage crumble and public opinion on the issue shifts rapidly, some Republicans are pushing the party to drop its opposition to same-sex unions, part of a broader campaign to get the GOP to appeal to younger voters by de-emphasizing social issues.

    April 23, 2014

  • Missouri executes inmate for 1993 farm slaying

    Missouri executed an inmate early Wednesday only a few miles from the farm where prosecutors say he orchestrated the 1993 killing of a couple whose cows he wanted to steal.

    April 23, 2014

  • 10 Things to Know for Wednesday

    Your daily look at late-breaking news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about Wednesday.

    April 22, 2014

  • In Other News, April 22

    April 22, 2014