PR’s golden ticket into primetime? You decide.
Talk shows moving into primetime could create more PR possibilities
I recently read an interesting article written by Michael Hirschorn from The Atlantic. He discusses how television viewers are increasingly turning to Internet outlets like Hulu.com or relying on digital video recorders to watch their favorite television serials on their own time. Because fewer viewers are watching serials during primetime, advertising revenue for that 8-11pm timeslot is dropping, making it difficult for networks to cover the production costs for scripted serials. The pilot episode of FOX’s Fringe, for example, was reported to cost $10 million . That’s only one episode in a 22-episode season. What’s more shocking: that $10 million budget is about a third of what talk show host Jay Leno makes in an entire year.
“The problem is a relatively simple one,” Hirschorn writes, “networks no longer make as much money on television shows as they used to. This makes the economics of scripted television – which is much more expensive to produce than reality or variety shows – far trickier and riskier than ever before.”
According to Hirschorn, a good revenue-reinforcing alternative is to air programs that simply will not be effective unless watched during primetime. Reality competitions like American Idol on FOX or ABC’s Dancing with the Stars are good examples. They are cheap to produce and encourage viewer interaction and thus must be watched live.
Talk shows that cover timely news events, movie premieres and album releases are another option, and Hirschorn says that by giving Jay Leno a spot in primetime, NBC is the forerunner in what is sure to become a new trend. When NBC announced in December that Leno would host a new talk show that will air in primetime at 10pm EST beginning in fall 2009, network representatives admitted their hope that this decision would help NBC keep up with an ever-changing television environment.
A recent Nielsen ratings study of the most-watched broadcast TV programs for the week of Feb.16 seems to back up Hirschorn’s argument. The study shows that timely programs that offer immediacy attract more viewers than programs whose storylines build from one week to the next.
Extracting only the regularly scheduled programs from the list, American Idol came out on top with 25.4 million watching on Feb. 17 and about 25 million watching the following day. Separated from this timely program by a gap of over 6 million viewers, serials like The Mentalist (18 million viewers), Grey’s Anatomy (15.5 million) and House (14 million) lagged behind.
So, what does this mean for PR professionals? Well, it could mean that they have just found their golden ticket into primetime. Television serials historically are not very pitchable, but talk shows accept a plethora of pitching, including news tips that make for great discussions and monologues. They are also receptive to guest pitches, from actors to musicians, comedians to politicians and authors to the not-so-famous: people with extraordinary talents, Average Joes who have an interesting story to tell or business leaders who might have unique advice on adjusting to a shaky economy.
Furthermore, if these shows have the effect that Hirschorn proposes they can have on primetime audience numbers, PR professionals could see expanded pitching opportunities broadcasting to a huge audience.
Only time will tell if talk shows can indeed survive during primetime, let alone save the timeslot; but I look forward to watching the progress of Mr. Leno’s upcoming program.
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