Thursday, February 21

Taking Leaps: NBC Blinks, Sees The Future

The Bionic Woman will not be rebuilt, but NBC Universal wants to rebuild television. On Tuesday, the network announced it would move to a year-round schedule of staggered program introduction.

According to The New York Times, NBC will be committing to a new lineup of shows earlier than any of its competitors, while also inviting advertisers to build marketing plans around specific shows and perhaps to integrate brands and products into the plots of the shows themselves.

“We absolutely think this is going to change the industry,” said Michael Pilot, head of sales for NBC.

The departure places a real question mark on the viability and importance of the Nielsen rating system. Nielsen is not prepared to measure a 52-week season; the bulk of its measure is based on traditional sweeps. Tradition, it seems, is dead.

“The ultimate decision is going to be made by program executives who believe in the shows,” Marc Graboff, the co-chairman of NBC Entertainment, who said that they are looking to have a two-way conversation with advertisers.

That makes sense, given more advertisers want a two-way conversations with customers. And customers want to be heard.

Whether this decision plays well for the fans of recently cancelled shows, or those on the bubble, has yet to be seen. For NBC, the show is Journeyman. So far, despite the inventive Rice-A-Roni campaign, the best outcome for fans seems to be based on a rumor that a few more episodes of season one might see the light of day.

For CBS, everyone knows the show is Jericho. With season 2, episode 2 ratings being called a virtual disaster, even sympathetic critics seem to think there is little hope left.

It’s not because fans don’t watch the show (on TiVo, Jericho ranks as the 11th most recorded show on television). It was also the network's second most downloaded show after CSI. And leaked episodes were downloaded in droves. One hold up: Nielsen families don’t watch Jericho live.

And that might be enough. Nina Tassler, president of CBS Entertainment, warned fans early on that she wanted more live viewers before committing to a third season. It’s something I kept drawing attention to when some fans insisted CBS wanted them to hang out in the CBS forum instead of out and about recruiting new fans. No matter, it wasn’t the only mistake made by fans or CBS.

The best hope for fans is that this "live viewers" condition was made on a network-decision model that doesn’t exist anymore. Every show is being considered on a case-by-case basis. It’s a new era of network decision-making; the kind that shocks the system as cable shows like Dexter make the jump from cable to mainstream despite growing protest.

At the end of the day, the decision will all depend on how CBS decides to crunch the numbers. If the old model is applied to Jericho, it will die. If the new model is applied, there might be a chance.

The same can be said for other shows too. The future model will allow shows like Journeyman or even Veronica Mars to avoid current ratings system and time slot traps. But that does not mean the networks have to apply this thinking today.



Sweet Tea on 2/21/08, 11:12 AM said...

Thanks Rich. I'm not a believer in Nielsen and looks as if I'm not alone. I see good things happening lately. I'm thrilled to see NBC moving ahead. I only hope this shift can save Jericho one more time and I still have faith. Certainly I have faith that future shows will have more hope of staying on the air.

Rich on 2/21/08, 11:25 AM said...


I have high hopes that CBS can do it if they want to. They have made a promo push in the right direction and I love that the producers have stepped up fan engagement, even if CBS has not.

I admire everything fans have done, especially since they did it on their own for months. I admire everything they are doing now too.

So there is no confusion, this is where we are: if CBS slays Jericho over ratings, no one will fault them considering where the number are now. (I am sure all seven episode will play out). If CBS saves Jericho based on every measure but Nielsen, they win too.

It's their call at the moment. They have every reason to play it either way. Though I think most critics need to move away from their Nielsen reviews. They don't hold up.


Debby on 2/21/08, 11:29 AM said...

I initially felt that the Nielsen's could still be valid but having read a few articles on the internet about how invasive it is to be a Nielsen family I can understand why good shows don't have as many fans. An intelligent person would not want to surrender so much of their lives to Nielsen. They are too busy to wait for the four hour at least installation. They also aren't going to want to push a button every 42 minutes to show they are still tuned in and watching. It is too much trouble. It stands to show that many families are now turning down the chance to be a Nielson family which then makes the statiscal representation less representative. I think this has also been shown by recent political polls. Also today's younger vieweres don't tune into programs when they air they play the episodes they dvred when it fits in their schedule. Television viewing sampling needs to be retuned to fit the realities of audiences today.

Anonymous said...

Thanks you Rich for another great article. It's good to see at least one network is looking to the future instead of holding on to the past. It appears that Jericho's only chance is for the fans to try to convince CBS to let go of the past and jump into the future. Can we be successful? I don't know but I will do what I can to persuade CBS. Here's to the future!

mpbnice on 2/21/08, 11:46 AM said...

I don't know of anyone on the CBS board who thought that posting on the boards was as important, or more important than, recruiting new viewers. The push to recruit new viewers has been stressed since the show was renewed for the seven episodes. We can only hope that CBS looks at all the numbers, not just Nielsen.

Rich on 2/21/08, 12:11 PM said...

@Balceroregontr Absolutely. It's an odd thing because everyone knows it is true, but then they use the old model to make decisions anyway. I didn't get it one year ago. I don't get it today.

@Ichthus Hope for the best; and keep doing what you are doing.

@mpbnice I'd rather avoid naming names on the small mention. The details do not matter much, but there are ample stories, starting around Sept., that pinpointed how such issues often divided the fans and detracted from outreach efforts, including whether fans needed to support external consumer-generated marketing efforts, blogs, etc. I didn't get into details because they won't a bit of difference in whether Jericho will get a third season.

"T.V. Barnum" on 2/21/08, 12:25 PM said...

However, Is CBS bold enough to take the first step in changing the landscape for Live Broadcasting, on-demand and internet?

As the #1 network, they MUST lead the way - they have the most to gain and the least to loose!

The new model only works if you can make money at it - CBS sells ads on the website,on innertube,and on demand - ads less invasive than "live Television"- but revenue none the less.

They sell on and itunes (when they don't give the darn shows away for free!), and get immedate sales information.

I agree,CBS lead JERICO fans to the net and new media,and now are the regretting it?

terocious on 2/21/08, 12:28 PM said...

The position Jericho is in now is so similar to last may that it cannot be a coincidence. It seems obvious to me that this show attracts a new type of viewer. I am 42 but watch solely online. The desired 18-49 demographic includes the first generation to own personal computers. They are the ones who learned BASIC and COBOL and who were there to help save the world from Y2K. :-) Computers are becoming more and more a part of our everyday lives and at this rate, it won’t be long before online exclusive programming moves into the limelight. The whole mentality of entertainment is changing and the word “Television” seems destined to become a representation of video in the same way “Record” has come to mean a collection of music by an artist. I love having the option of watching a show whenever I like and having grown up in the 9 commercials per one hour show era, I feel like I am actually getting a deal if I only have to watch 4 commercials. (I just wish they weren’t the same 4)

Rich on 2/21/08, 12:32 PM said...

If there was not money to be made being on the Internet, then CBS would not have announced today that it will begin offering Television Classics from the CBS Library, which is one of the largest television programming libraries in the entertainment business.

I learned about it just after posting.

Kim on 2/21/08, 12:33 PM said...

The only one who thinks Nielsen ratings are accurate and truly representative of the American viewing public is Nielsen. They're making themselves irrelevent.

Balceroregontr is right: the Nielsen process is
intrusive. And what's worse, Nielsen skews heavily toward certain ethnic groups and certain urban areas.

Seems silly for networks to make programming decisions based on the opinions of a very small, carefully chosen sampling of Americans.

Nielsen is not representative of me or my family or the way we watch television. Networks should follow NBC's lead and go to a 52-week season. Oh yeah, and stop using Nielsen's faux numbers.

Anonymous said...


Great article! Well written as always.

However, I do want to point out that Nielsen DOES do ratings 52 weeks out of the year. And while a lot of the focus is on sweeps right now, with the continuing rollout of People Meters in the coming years, sweeps will be all but eliminated in about five more years, so while I think you have an argument for now, I am not sure if it's an argument for the forseeable future.


Here is a story I wrote about this in my "other" job:

Rich on 2/21/08, 3:53 PM said...


Michael Hinman, SySfy Portal, puts internal speculation into the mix, saying that it looks like the experiment is about to close and citing a source that wished to be unnamed. However, he cautioned several times that this is an unconfirmed rumor. Even the source said that there is time for CBS to change its mind.

Anonymous said...

The other factor here -- and there's nothing anybody can do about it now -- is that the hiatuses between new episodes have been decimating to the audience. If the ten-week hiatus between the two halves of Season One was damaging, surely the nine-month hiatus between Season One and Season Two was a deal-breaker for many casual viewers of the series. (Not to mention that some people may have thought, why commit to a series that's only going to air seven more episodes?) If we do get a Season Three, there will be a mimimum six-month hiatus before it arrives.

Jericho is tremendously illustrative of the shift to new media. The new episodes rank high on iTunes, Amazon Unbox, and other download sites. People want to watch their favorite shows when they choose, not when the network chooses. (Having said that, I have sat down to watch every episode of Jericho at its appointed time without fail.)

I hope CBS learns their lesson soon.


Rich on 2/21/08, 4:03 PM said...

Thanks Michael,

Your post came over just as I was adding your rumor update. Your ears must be burning.

Yes, Nielsen does offer ratings year round, but its year-round sampling is even smaller. My argument is not that the debt-burdened Nielsen company cannot change. It's touching on the idea that it doesn't seem capable of changing fast enough, considering I just received an adaptor to watch everything on my iPod and iPhone on my television for a $1.99 per show. A product concept less than 180 days old.

So five years? That's a long time, online or off. Just last year, people were laughing at me that convergence was even possible. Today, CBS is loading up its library online. That's less than one year. Nowadays, most of the world is working on what can be accomplished in 180 days or your dead.

Also, if you have a chance, email me your link. It seems to have been cut off in the comments. I'd love to see it.


Rich on 2/21/08, 4:08 PM said...

Well said C.

There were about two dozen things that CBS could have done differently. They did some of them, too little too late, I think. At least as it applies to Jericho.

As I said, I think the viewers are there. I just don't think they are watching the way CBS wanted them to watch. But they are making moves that suggests they know better ... online vintage television, their own TiVo count agreement, and moving a cable show to mainstream. It seems more likely, as I mentioned, this is an excuse to brush off the nut dust once and for all, assuming there is truth to the rumor mill.


Rich on 2/21/08, 4:17 PM said...

Overdo compliment.

Barry, a brilliant piece of writing today.


Anonymous said...

Wonderful article. You can always be counted on to tell it like it is. All I can say is that I'm confused. It feels like the networks - and CBS, with Jericho - is the one that affects me the most - are giving with one hand (offering the new, such as online viewing), but taking back with the other (if you aren't Nielson, you don't exist) Do you think they will wake up and smell the "reality" before they lose their audience completely?

Jack Payne on 2/21/08, 7:35 PM said...

A straight shot, Rich. Somehow, I get the round-about idea that the stench of "Nielson Ratings" permeates your nostrils, too. I recall, way back in the 1960s, sitting down with Nielson for an interview in Chicago. At the time, the Nielsons were everything--they dominated the Leo Burnet agency and the Chicago Michigan Avenue ad agencies, as well as the Madison Ave. Boys in N.Y. Their model at that time was highly suspect--heavy leanings toward ethnic groups. No proportionality, as reflected by the polls takers. Never made sense to me. Yet, even today, their dominance--held up as the Bible of the Ratings Culture--seems to remain. Can't understand why, and will forever be suspicious.

Your writing style is refreshing--sparkling and. most importantly, crystal clear. Keep up the good work. It's a pleasure to read your stuff.

Rich on 2/22/08, 4:44 PM said...


It used to be about a flaws, not it's about faux. For every show canceled over "ratings," another survives with the same or lower numbers.

It's become a network excuse for every decision made, spun up as you like it. FNL, which I did not watch for example, was saved and canceled based on virtually the same numbers. Silly.



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