Seeking Relevance, Networks Broadcast Live
Networks are adjusting to the changed world of how people watch their programs: hours or weeks later on DVR, online or on-demand. But the industry's financial structure hasn't caught up yet, so viewers who watch when a program is first aired - once the only way to watch - are considered more valuable.
That's why Fox is putting on a live production of "Grease" and NBC is remaking "The Music Man." Fox is recreating an Evel Knievel motorcycle jump. ABC touts its Oscars telecast and other awards shows. NBC locked up Olympics rights through 2032, and CBS won a bidding war to show NFL football on Thursday night.
Sports usually gets little or no attention in network sales pitches to advertisers. Not this year. ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox all gave sports a starring role. Why? Very few people DVR sports events.
ABC made the point explicit with a message on a wide video screen: "Your DVR can't handle live."
"We're obsessed with trying to eventize everything we can - even episodes of our scripted shows," said Robert Greenblatt, NBC's entertainment chief.
"It's about the urgency to view," said Fox's Kevin Reilly.
When Lucy and Desi went live to tape in the 1950s, the audience revolved around the celebrity's schedule. Now, with the power of recording in the hands of the viewers, the networks are scrambling to get their celebrities ready for something TV actors haven't needed to do in a long time: Go live.
Reality TV changed the way networks styled television in the early 2000s. Now, social media is changing the way networks market their product. Being a part of the "cultural conversation" is paramount; unfortunately, it also means a steady diet of imitation and near-naked chicks, as Bauder's quick quiz illustrates:
Which of the following lines was NOT uttered at a network presentation last week:
A) "A lot of people called `Battlestar Galactica' one of the best shows ever."
B) "This series is `Game of Thrones' meets `The Borgias' meets `The Bible.'"
C) "We have two hours of bloody, sexy drama."
D) "Some of our new shows will disappear before you even realize they're on the air."
If you answered anything other than D, then you have something to learn about the atmosphere of hype and hope that accompanies this week every year.
Can the Big Three really compete with streaming services like Netflix who are willing to invest in original programming and dish it out in an a la carte fashion? Or, will the thrill and nostalgia of live television force even the most radical of new service providers to push the Internet to its streaming capacity?