In a television age characterized by binge watching and Netflix downloading, how is mainstream TV to compete? Summer programming at the major networks is challenging in the best of scenarios, but what is the answer to competing effectively in this new television-on-demand economy?
Everything old is new again
Forget summer reruns; new programming is king. Enter an old idea made new again: the mini-series. What it offers the major networks is star power (think Halle Berry), keen storytellers (Stephen King’s “Under the Dome”), and topics that appeal to dedicated niche audiences (Mark Burnett’s Biblical tale, “AD”). Of course, the hubbub all began with the reworking of a classic movie on NBC, “Rosemary’s Baby,” to kick the summer season of mini-series off. “Roots,” too, will be experiencing the reboot soon.
Even with this sort of programming on offer to viewers, the major networks have a serious challenge ahead. With Netflix offering original series, such as “House of Cards” and “Orange is the New Black,” not only do the major networks have to compete with superior productions, they also are constrained by Federal Communications Commission (FCC) guidelines that makes taking on controversial (read: audience-grabbing) material out of their range, in many cases.
However, even with tamer material, mini-series have proven their value to networks, albeit back in earlier days with such hits as “Shogun,” “Winds of War,” and “The Thornbirds.”
What’s on offer at the major networks this summer
There’s no shortage of big name talent for summer 2014, either in front of the camera (as with Actress Halle Berry in the science fiction “Extant”) or behind (as with “Sixth Sense” Director M. Night Shyamalan and his series “Wayward Pines” or Producer Stephen Spielberg who’s affiliated with “Extant”).
In addition to borrowing talent from films, there’s also some flattering imitations of British TV success with the upcoming mini-series “Gracepoint,” a murder mystery series mirroring a British series, “Broadchurch,” which will appear on Fox. And why not, everyone knows the unbridled success PBS has had with “Downton Abbey.”
Building on success is the surest way to go. That’s why viewers will see more of “Under the Dome” and the revival of “Roots,” not to mention a revisiting of the popular TV show, “24” in a limited 12-episode revival called “24: Live Another Day.”
Despite the appealing new take on mini-series, it won’t be easy to win back the 18-to-49 audience that advertisers most crave. According to Bloomberg News, 21 percent of that audience has been lost in the years since 2010, and it will not be gained back easily with so much choice available. (If it makes the networks feel any better, cable audiences have been shrinking as well.) Still, introducing new and rebooted material is the network’s best hope of gaining back audience share and the concomitant advertising dollars it so desperately seeks.