EXCLUSIVE: There was once a time when new television shows would launch with a formidable campaign of promos, billboards, print & radio ads and press interviews.
Everybody would wait for the ratings the next day to see if viewers had turned up. Sometimes talkback radio would gauge feedback. There might even be Letters to the Editor.
But in 2018 the responses are instant. Thanks to social media, it only takes a few tweets lifted by journos to construct a clickbait story and brand something “Worst Show Ever.”
Overnight ratings, may indeed be the industry standard, but they only tell part of the picture -and only for 5 city metropolitan audiences.
Amid fragmented viewing and increased competition, viewers are increasingly watching on their own schedule: a complex mix of timeshifting, catch-up and Live viewing on devices (Video Play Measurement).
A show can also live or die based on its lead-in, and the length of end credits or network promos in between shows can be enough for viewers to press a button.
All of which can be pretty disheartening to producers who have poured blood, sweat and money into their new baby.
TV Tonight asked several production companies how hard it was to launch a new show? While most were reluctant to address the issue, Nick Murray from CJZ (Gruen, The Checkout, Julia Zemiro’s Home Delivery, Wanted, The Ex-PM, Street Smart) said these were the 5 hardest questions in TV to answer.
Here are his responses:
1. What are the three biggest hurdles to currently launching new shows in Australia?
Obviously the main challenge is getting some attention from the right kind of audience. There are so many sources of entertainment, trying to get people to invest precious time in taking a punt at home on something they haven’t heard of, is really hard. Mix this with the blood-lust on social media (from people who don’t appear to have people meters) and the perceived need for instant success, and you can see why launching a new show requires intestinal fortitude. The final challenge is balancing known faces, formats and familiarity with the blue sky upside offered by launching new talent and ideas. You can see how successful TEN’s patience with Have You Been Paying Attention has been. The fact that they were prepared to persevere for several years, has resulted in a hit show and an anchor in the schedule for TEN.
“The launch of The Office didn’t work at first at all”
2. What can networks do better?
They need to find a way to ignore the chaff on social media and in the media itself. Given the furore on talkback radio when Kath and Kim launched, imagine what would happen now on social media and the probable Twitter storm, especially when a lot of it is anonymous. Try to ignore the calls for someone’s head and the death threats. Similarly in the UK, the launch of The Office didn’t work at first at all – not just the first few episodes – the whole first series was largely unwatched. So the BBC played the whole thing again in a prime slot and the audience found it on the second run. So remember the reason why the idea excited when it was first pitched, and use that memory to block out the inevitable noise.
“The media loves negative comments.”
3. What can media do better?
The media loves negative comments. So it is tempting for them to use a handful of anonymous comments on Twitter as the basis for a tear-down of a new show. There isn’t any other industry that has to weather attacks based on anonymous vitriol to the extent we do. This isn’t potential life and death like a Samsung washing machine burning down a house. These are shows that the audience have been given for nothing, being torn down because it’s easy.
The media also forgets how long it took hit shows in the past to become an actual hit. We all think that Fast Forward, Kath and Kim, Have You Been Paying Attention, The Office, Gruen, Seinfeld, Neighbours, Offspring were immediate successes. They weren’t. Ratings in season three of Gruen were up to 50% higher than season one. Fast Forward got more than three times the ratings for episode 38 than it did for episode 9. Neighbours got cancelled at Seven before becoming a hit at TEN. Kath and Kim’s ratings increased around 400% over the run of the first series.
Let’s try to remember that building a hit takes time for the audience to find it and then like it. It’s lazy journalism to simply use a few anonymous take-downs and initial low ratings as “evidence” of a flop. Remember that a new show will probably be a bit ropey at the beginning and needs time to evolve. Audiences have shown they are happy to stick around during that process and be rewarded as the show grows more mature. That’s how we find exciting new things.
“Australia is the only country in the world not using national numbers”
4. What can OzTAM do better?
I’m not sure it’s fair to blame OzTAM at all for new show launches. But it is weird that the audience numbers released to media, (including by the ABC) are the 5 capital city numbers. These are only relevant to advertisers looking to price a 5 capital city spend. Why not wait an hour and use the real national numbers? Regional audiences matter too and can make up 30% of the actual audience. Australia is the only country in the world not using national numbers to indicate audience. That’s just insane and under-values the real overnight audience for our shows.
Also, there is a risk that the wide availability of a brand new show online – via FaceBook, YouTube, Instagram and the network’s catchup services – works against a launch. If the audience thinks they don’t have to watch it now, they may never watch it. Those alternative outlets are not properly measured and reported even if they are successful. And currently there is no hard data on the relative success of a wide online release vs. keeping it exclusive to broadcast TV. I’d like to see that before our shows are spread on the four winds.
“We all need to keep taking risks.”
5. What can production companies do better?
We all need to keep taking risks. It’s tempting to play safe, but we need fresh ideas and fresh faces. Not every successful show was filled with famous names. Seinfeld, Lost, Grey’s Anatomy, House, Friends, Big Bang Theory, Modern Family (and the list goes on) all had virtually unknown lead cast in the US when they started. (Yes I know Patrick Dempsey was known, but not from a prime time show and Hugh Laurie was unknown in the US which is why he was cast). We need to keep championing fresh creativity, new talent and local ideas, because that’s what the audience loves.
We also need to hang onto the skills to build and launch new shows from the ground up – not just by peering at an international format bible and cracking out the international graphics package. We are a creative industry. Let’s make sure we stay creative and protect and nurture the fantastic people who can write, produce and appear on new shows. We need to champion great ideas not just copy them.