One of the highest stakes "games" in the world is television programming. Hundreds of millions of dollars are won and lost each year.
The players are primarily the New York network executives who decide what programs should and should not be on U.S. networks. They look at factors such as; on what day a show should air and in what time slot.
What program comes on before and after each show is another important factor, as well as what the other networks are offering in the same time slot.
Added to this are target audience demographics (characteristics such as age, race, sex and economic level), program promotions, and advertiser appeal. Each of these factors is crucial for having a successful show and a successful season.
So again, some key factors to a Show’s success or Failure are:
Day and Time Slot
First, you have to accept the fact that you are probably “abnormal” and by this I mean that your taste in television programs probably doesn’t coincide with that of the average viewer.
You know “We’re all here because we’re not all there”… Right?
Now, our current audience consists of ETSU students, faculty, and staff. So the majority of our audience may very well be into the same things you all are into. Our target audience could change at some point. So knowing our target audience is extremely important when making programming decisions.
We will get into more specifics about Buc-TV later in the presentation but for now lets look at programming from a broader perspective. I am going to come at this from a commercial broadcaster point of view. Some of this presentation may be a recap of things you already know or have learned in other classes but some of this may be new. I hope to tie it all together at the end so bare with me.
So here we go… the fact is that most TV viewers do not have a college education and they are older than you are. This means that they will probably like and dislike different things in life – including what they watch on TV. In finding programming to air, always keep in mind who your target audience is and what will appeal to the vast majority of that audience. This is referred to as the LCD or lowest common denominator of your audience. We are looking for what appeals to the largest portion of your target audience.
I’ve worked with Program Managers and Media content managers that often had to schedule programming that they didn’t personally care for, but the ratings showed that a large share of the audience did like the programming, they wanted the station to be successful so they aired the shows that were making money or making a profit.
Higher ratings means more Ad dollars…
Local TV stations live and die by the Nielsen ratings book. I’ll explain that more in just a moment. Nielsen is the Company that is tasked with tracking viewership for programming by taking a sample of an areas tv audience and having them record what they are watching on the tube over a period of time known as “Sweeps”. They are then able to compile ratings based on the data gathered. Higher ratings means more ad dollars. Low ratings make for some hard to sale commercial breaks because advertisers are looking for the most bang for their buck. They don’t want to spend a ton of money to only reach a small number of households. They are wanting to advertise to their target audience, so knowing what shows appeal to which audience is very important to them as well. Local TV stations typically have a large sales staff, armed with all of the numbers from these ratings books to go out and sale commercial time to area businesses.
Everyone knows what a Promo or Promotional Spot is, right? Well they can be a good thing or a bad thing. Here is what I mean by that… this is a line I heard in a conference call years ago that really made a lot of sense and has stuck with me… “Promos are what happen when commercials don’t”. If your flipping through the dial and see a ton of Promo’s for the station, you can just about bet they are having trouble selling ads and likely what ever show you are watching is having some ratings trouble. Again, when programming a station you are looking for shows that will appeal to the largest part of your viewing audience.
Now, there will always be some late night and early morning hours you can use for your favoritesJ
Now some other factors beyond Audience Appeal..
A big one is cost to purchase the rights to air a show… Some shows that aren’t necessarily “top notch” make it on the local airwaves because they are inexpensive to purchase or cheap to produce. Everyone knows what an Infomercial is. The reason you see so many infomericals on TV (especially during those late night or early morning ours) is because this is free programming for a station, better than that the station is getting paid to air these programs! So those hard to sale commercial breaks just became a lot easier by airing a 30 min. infomercial at 3am.
Cost to produce the show and ease of production can also play a role in programming. Look at all of the Talk shows and Reality shows on TV today. Networks like TLC, A&E, History, and HGTV are full of reality shows… House Hunters for example… it’s a camera guy following around a realtor and a customer looking at 3 houses. How hard is that to create? The realtor probably isn’t getting paid, the customers definitely aren’t paid and the production crew is working by the hour knocking these shows out left and right.
Another example is Survivor, you have 20 “unpaid actors”, one well-paid host, and tons of entertainment. This show brings in millions of advertising dollars that pay for everything plus and extra $1million left over at the end for the “big winner”… just make sure you pay the taxes on that!
Some other popular examples…
Southern Justice (Sullivan County Sheriffs office), Appalachian Outlaws, GoldRush, Berring Sea Gold… I could go on and on with examples but you get the point. A show doesn’t have to cost a lot or be difficult to produce to be successful!
Some additional thoughts about finding your target audience.
Remember when I started I said that Television Programming is a high stakes game…
In almost any game aiming at the wrong target can mean you lose the game. The same goes for television programming.
# 1. Know your competition
If you are scheduling a program for a network or local station that's opposite "Monday Night Football" (an extremely popular TV series with men), you will probably not chose another program that appeals to men.
Unless you have something that will draw more men than the major football teams -- and that would be difficult -- you would probably be better off scheduling a program that appeals to women who may not be interested in watching football.
This technique is referred to as counterprogramming.
Counterprogramming can also involve other demographic characteristics. For a program that appeals to an older audience you might want to counterprogram with something that appeals to a younger audience. For a program that appeals to a sophisticated audience, think about a program that appeals to a not-so-sophisticated audience.
Deciding on a target audience also involves your advertisers.
A show that has commercials for expensive cars, designer clothes, exotic vacation spots, and upscale restaurants will have to appeal to an audience that can afford these things. If you are trying to sell designer jeans, you don't want to buy commercial time in a show that appeals primarily to an older audience.
As mentioned earlier, advertisers are interested in the number of viewers that watch a show but they are even more interested in the show's demographics. In fact, demographics are important to advertisers in any area of mass media: TV, radio, newspapers, online, magazines and books.
Demographics, again, refers to statistical data relating to the population and particular groups within it. This would include data on your audiences Age, sex, education, income, etc. Again the Nielsen Company are the ones that gather this data and provide their results to local and network stations who in turn use the data to make programming decisions and to sale commercial time.
Ok, so we just learned about Counterprogramming as being one popular scheduling strategy for network and local stations. Now lets look at some others.
First we have Audience Flow. The audience that leads into your show is important. This is especially true for viewers who get TV free off-air, rather than from cable or the Internet, where there are many more options. If your show comes after one that has high ratings, your show will benefit through audience flow.
When a station or network schedules a number of programs consecutively that have a similar demographic appeal, this is referred to as stacking. Often, networks will stack a series of sitcoms together, assuming that audience flow will hold viewers for several hours. Back in the 90’s and early 2000’s ABC was using this method of stacking for their TGIF lineup. It was a series of funny, light-hearted, comedies that appealed to a large target audience and was very successful lasting for many years. ABC has pulled this idea back out with their TGIT lineup on Thursday nights with Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal, and How to Get Away With Murder. The target audience for these drama’s would be largely Women 18-49.
Just a little free extra here… I’m going to stray off topic for just a minute so bare with me. The idea of Stacking and Flow are also very important in local news. When building a rundown for a local news broadcast, a producers dream is to have a show that is stacked with stories that easily flow into the next story or segment. (News producers are looking for a flow that has easy transitions from one story to the next) I’m sure we have all seen instances, watching the news, where the Anchor awkwardly has to jump from a story about something terrible like a deadly car wreck or someone being murdered or raped to the story about the cutest puppy contest. Kind of an abrupt jump that leaves the viewer thinking “something about that was awkward but I’m not sure why”. Well the reason is we weren’t ready in our mind for the quick shift in stories. This is where Stacking and Flow play an important role in writing news.
OK… enough about News and back to Programming… By putting a new or weak show between two popular shows, audience flow will tend to bring up the new or weak show through what is called the hammock effect.
Rather than switch channels between two strong shows (and maybe join a program in progress on another network, or be forced to tune away from it before it ends) audiences tend to stay with the network, even if they try to do something else during the interval, like going to the kitchen and fixing themselves a ham sandwich. This, of course, helps the new or weaker show -- and may result in it "catching on" and becoming popular in its own right.
Somewhat related is the concept of tent poling, or using popular, well-established TV shows scheduled in pivotal time periods to boost the ratings of the shows around them.
Next we have Hotswitching. This is where programmers eliminate any pause between the end of one program and the start of the next one -- generally at the top of the hour. The idea is to immediately get viewers involved in the next program before they are tempted to switch channels. If you ever watch Friends or Big Bang Theory re-runs on TBS you will have seen this, the credits are rolling in a picture in picture window at the top of the screen while the next episode is getting started. This is a brilliant way to grab your viewer and hold them there so that they get interested in the next episode before they have a chance to think twice and flip the dial.
Next is Cross-programming. This stragegy involves the interconnection of two different shows. The story line of one program continues into a different program, generally with a mixture of the key people appearing in each. I’ve seen this strategy used with some of our local retro TV stations where they may air a couple of shows, created at different times but using the same lead actor. Another example would be a couple of the 3 thousand versions of CSI airing back to back.
Next one is Bridging. Bridging is used when one TV program intentionally extends beyond the normal end point of programs on the other channels. With these programs already underway when the first program ends it discourages the audience from changing channels and joining another program "in progress." This drives me crazy because I always miss the very end of “Gold Rush”. My DVR cuts off before the show ends. Even so, it is a smart strategy! But it drives a master control operator insane because they are expecting everything to hit on time every time.
Theming is next and it is pretty much what it sounds like. The idea of grouping together a block of shows -- maybe even a whole week of shows during a certain time period – and this group of shows is centered around the same theme. For example a block of cop shows or medical drama shows. Similar idea to audience Flow and Cross-Programming.
Next we have Stripping. This one is not what it sounds like! Stripping is the strategy of showing episodes of the same syndicated series, scheduled Monday through Friday at the same time. Not having to wait an entire week to see the next episode of a series (as they would with first-run network series) is an attractive option to many viewers. This may have been the first stab at Video on Demand back in the old days. Probably where early VOD pioneers got their inspiration.
And how could we leave out Marathons. We all know what this is. Very popular on some local stations and on cable and satellite channels such as A&E. For instance you have a half-dozen episodes of Law and Order, Pawn Stars, CSI, or even the old The Twilight Zone series might be scheduled with the potential of holding loyal fans for several hours. Marathons often take place on weekends and during holiday periods when viewers are apt to have more time to watch TV. Again… another strategy that gave birth to Video On Demand services like Netflix and Hulu, but is still used a lot in traditional broadcasts today.
Our last two Programming strategies deal with End of the Season or Sweeps episodes.
First is Stunting, which is using special programming or plot gimmicks in an effort to boost audience size. You often see stunting by networks during sweeps. And again, sweeps is when those “all important” ratings are being recorded and gathered for the next Nielsen ratings book. As an Engineer, sweeps is also when we don’t touch anything! If it ain’t broke, don’t even think about fixing it during sweeps. This is hard to do for an enthusiastic engineer but the last thing you want is to be sitting on black during sweeps.
Examples of stunting, as it relates to programming, would be when a key person in a dramatic series gets married, has a baby, gets shot, or whatever. In the early 90s, it was discovered that weddings could boost a show's ratings by about three points -- so a lot of people in dramas suddenly got married.
Another stunting technique is to have a famous person appear in an episode -- typically, a famous actor, political figure, athlete, or singer. In each of these cases, "the event" is heavily touted in promos (on-air promotions for the show).
So back to what I mentioned at the beginning about Promos… For local programmers, Sweeps and the days leading up to this time are when you want to use up some commercial time for Promos… you want to see those promos during sweeps because you are looking to attract your biggest audiences of the season which will boost your ratings! You may have noticed that a few times a year our local stations will promote a big investigative news story they are working on or maybe they are going to do a series of live on location shows for a couple of weeks. You can just about bet that it is time for sweeps when this happens.
OK and last but not least of the stunting strategies are "reunion shows". These are the episodes where the beloved long lost cast members re-appear for the big shindig at the end.
One of the earliest and most famous instances of stunting (in this case to hold the interest of viewers from the end of one season to the start of the next) was in "Dallas" (a weekly drama that aired from 1978 to 1991). The key actor in the series (a man who everyone loved to hate (JR Ewing) was shot by an unknown person and rushed to the hospital just as the series ended for the season. Over the summer, the secret as to "who shot J.R." was afforded higher security than classified nuclear documents, which only intensified the mystery.
It was rumored that the tabloid press offered a six-figure sum to anyone with the series who would reveal the killer's identity before the new season began. However, several versions of the subsequent episode were filmed and no one knew for sure which version would air.
When the series did start again, more people were watching in the United States than voted in the previous presidential election. And, in case you're wondering, a girlfriend, not to be confused with his wife in the series, shot J.R. -- and he lived.
This is of course is what we refer to as a “Cliff Hanger”
Applying What We’ve Learned. Now lets take a step back and try to apply some of this to Buc-TV.
Local stations not affiliated with a network are left to their own devices to compete for ratings. This includes us and if we branch out beyond the ETSU campus ratings will become a big deal and something we will have to shoot for.
#1 Find or produce programming that will appeal to our target audience
Although it's hard to compete against first-run network programming, local stations often capture at least three percent of the available audience if they run syndicated shows -- shows that ran on the networks and are subsequently sold in package deals to local stations. This 3 percent is a critical figure when it comes to getting national advertising. Now of course, Buc-TV advertising will likely be handled differently than commercial broadcast stations but we will still need to be airing programming that we can sell to advertisers who we would like to underwrite or sponsor us.
#2 Be flexible to changes in our target audience
Our Target Audience could change at some point. If Buc-TV finds its way to the air-waves and cable systems in our area, we may have to adjust our programming to appeal to a new audience. We need to be flexible if these changes do occur. But for now our target audience is our students so we need to produce and air things that appeal to them and the powers that be within the university.
#3 If purchasing programming, make sure all I’s are dotted and T’s are crossed
In locally owned TV stations there is typically a member of the sales staff or traffic staff in charge of purchasing the rights to air syndicated shows and national commercials. In a group owned station there may be a corporate staff member or team that will handle this for the entire group. The person in charge of syndicated programming will be responsible for making sure everything has been legally acquired. I believe Tammy is the one currently in charge of any programming purchases that we make and all of that has to go through our Legal department to get their blessing. So any programming we plan to air should be ran by Tammy to make sure there are no issues. Which brings me to my next point…
#4 Follow all FCC rules and regulations
So for us, BucTV, we need to make sure everything we are airing is properly acquired and meets all FCC rules and regulations. This will be critically important if Buc-TV makes it beyond the walls of the ETSU campus and out to the public. This is something we should do now so there aren’t any huge changes we need to make in the event that our coverage changes. We should all be familiarizing ourselves with the FCC guidelines that non profit stations fall under. I’m going to hit on a couple of FCC rules next as we talk about some Programming Basics…
So, I spoke with some of my former co-workers and together we came up with the following list of Programming Basics. This is probably the only slide you really wanted me to talk aboutJ But Daniel said to come and talk to you about Programming so I just put it all in here.
# 1 “Keep things running on Time”
Unless we are using the Bridging strategy for scheduling a show (which again is the idea of a show extending beyond the normal timeslot to discourage the viewer from changing channels to join a show already in progress)… Unless we are doing that we, need to be running things on time.
Continuing that thought…. #2 “Make a schedule and stick to it”
We need to make sure our programming is consistent with the time and day it airs. Television stations are ran like clock work, literally. Unlike many “on-demand” services, Buc-TV is a traditional broadcast television station that has a schedule to keep and adhere to. Our viewers will be tuning in at certain times to watch an already determined program. We will not be able to gain an audience unless we have consistency with our programming. In turn (down the road) we will be unsuccessful in selling advertisements if we don’t have an audience to advertise to…. For us this would mean selling sponsorships or finding businesses to underwrite a show. You never know, the university may decide to go the commercial route and forgo the benefits and possible government funding that goes along with a public, non-profit standing. This would really boost the importance of that ratings book for us.
#3 and #4 12 – 16 minutes of breaks for every hour of programming, Breaks should not exceed 4 min.
Now, for public, non-profit stations these rules don’t really apply. Many PBS stations will air entire episodes of there programs and have a few minutes of PSA’s or Promo’s at the end. For now, we could do things that way or we could set our schedule up to be more like a commercial station. Again, we do not know if or when we will branch out to the public and if we do we don’t know what kind of station we will become (public or commercial). So we have some freedom to do what we want right now, keeping in mind that things could change and we may have to adapt.
For a commercial broadcast station you should have 12-16 minutes of breaks for every hour of programming. That means every half hour around 6 to 8 minutes of breaks. This will make your hour long show around 45 minutes and a thirty min show around 23 minutes. A break should be no longer than 4 minutes. Any more than that and your viewers will turn the channel to see what else is on. Really short breaks spaced to close together is also bad for business as it will leave the viewer with the impression that this station has too many breaks and not enough programming. There is a happy medium that needs to be hit when spacing out breaks and it is not an exact science. As long as we are hitting the start and end of the show on time we can adjust breaks accordingly.
#5 Station ID should air at the top of each hour
We need to make sure we are running our Station ID at the top of each hour. The ID should be a slide with our logo, channel, Call Letters… since we are not a broadcast station right now we probably don’t have call letters?, We can just use Buc-TV for now, the station ID should also include our coverage area. Also, the station ID needs a voice over of all of the pertinent info on the slide. The ID doesn’t have to air exactly at top of the hour but within a logical break as close to the top of the hour as possible. There are FCC guidelines for duration, size of text and what information needs to be included so we will need to make sure we are meeting these specs. This is something we will have to look up. Again, not a real concern right now but would be good practice and a good habit to get into for the future.
#6 Closed Captioning
We need to research Closed Captioning to make sure we are following FCC guidelines for this. FCC loves to hand out fines for violations and the fines aren’t cheap. Back when I worked at JHL, CC was required on all recorded programming and any live events that were going to air more than once. I’m sure things have changed and Public TV falls under different rules from Commercial Broadcast stations.
Last but definitely not least… #7 Audio Levels!
We are using programming from many different sources and individuals, in turn our audio levels are all over the place some times. Typically, in a broadcast station, audio levels are adjusted for each piece of programming prior to going into the playout system. Currently, we don’t have a good way to check audio levels nor do we even know for sure what good levels should look like on the meters we do have. So this is something that Daniel and I will be working on in the near future. We will be coming up with a workflow which will likely include more audio meters and additional points to monitor audio and where the audio levels need to “ride”. We will also work on figuring out what good levels look like in all of the editing programs we use. Because, this is such a crucial item, we may also look into purchasing a device that would be installed on the end of our stream to watch and correct levels before they go out to air. But again, it’s best to have the levels correct before we put the programming into the playout server.
As some of you already know, we ran out of storage space on the programming server last week which locked the system up causing us to be “off-air” for about 10 or 15 minutes while Seth and I worked feverishly to clear space and reboot stuff. This wasn’t the first time over the last couple of years this has happened but hopefully, it will be the last. The other day Daniel had me order a new Programming server which should have around 6-8TB of storage space available once we get the Raid Array setup completed. This server will replace the 1TB server we are currently using. 6-8TB sounds like a lot of space but it has been my experience that with computer storage we will use as much as is available. We try to make sure that all of our programming is in the H.264, .mp4 format to keep file sizes small. Our OnTheAir playout system will play many other formats. For instance the system loves Apple ProRes 422 MOV files. The only problem, is a 30 minute Apple ProRes file is around 22GB in size where as the same file exported as an H.264 MP4 is 2.5GB. That is nearly 10x smaller than the ProRes file. Airing an MOV that is exported straight from the K2 one time is no big deal, but if it is something that we are going to keep in our library, we need to make sure we are converting it to MP4 format.
This is a list of Programming Ideas that Daniel and I came up with probably about a year ago now. And the item at the top “Athletic Events and Shows” we are now doing. Good job guys for helping to make this happen and keep up the good work! When we have the resources to do so, we need to begin editing these games for time, check audio, replace the commercials with PSA’s or Promo’s, etc. Seth has been working on this using the Split and Mar IN and OUT options in OnTheAir Manager. It’s a little tricky but it does work and Seth or I will be happy to show anyone interested how to use these features.
There are tons of things happening all over this campus and a lot it is already being recorded by other departments for other things, we just need to get in touch with some folks and see if we can get our hands on this stuff.
Again, our target audience is the ETSU community so any and all of this should be of interest to our viewers.
u Theater and Dance productions
u Music and Bluegrass productions
u High profile guest speakers and concerts
u Radio “Specialty Show” feeds to highlight our campus radio station “theEdge”
u The possibilities are endless!
Think about working with other departments to cross-promote. Buc-Sports could give us a shout-out during their broadcasts for instance. We are airing their games now so it couldn’t hurt to ask. They have an audience that we may not be tapped into, likewise, we have an audience they would like to be connected with. Another example, theEdge, we should be airing Promo’s for them and they should do the same for us. The East Tennessean, likewise. We have received some publicity with them recently, which is great! Now let’s see if they would like for us to return the favor. I believe we are airing a slide but we could produce actual Promo’s for these folks and air them during our breaks rather than just using tired old PSA’s all the time.
That’s it, programming 101. Now, I’m not in charge, you guys are! So my role today, was to give you some ideas and things to think about. Now it’s your turn to come up with what you feel will work to grow the station and make it successful.