Bentley: Networks trying to adapt to changing times

The Fresno BeeAugust 6, 2013 

The usual observations about what's going on in the local world of TV and radio will resume next week. I'm back from almost two weeks at the TV critics meetings in Los Angeles talking with executives and actors about the upcoming fall season, and I learned a few things that are going to change the way you watch television.

It's become very obvious the old model for the way networks schedule their programming is going away. For decades, new programs and original episodes of returning series started in September and ran through May. Summer was filled with reruns.

This model worked because the networks were the only options. Cable came along and shook things up. There were more than 1,000 original shows on cable last year.

One change by the networks is to cut down on the number of episodes in a season — an average of 22 episodes — as a means to open up more time for other original programs. The new CBS drama "Hostages" will only run 15 episodes. The new ABC offering "Betrayal" will run for 13 episodes. If they get an audience, a new short-run of episodes would be created for the following year.

This is not a new format as the networks have used it in the summer with programs such as "Rookie Blue" on ABC, "Hannibal" on NBC and "Under the Dome" on CBS. Now, the model is being used during the rest of the TV year. Putting on a series that has so few episodes means viewers won't have to wait nearly as long for some type of conclusion. It also opens the door for more original programming rather than resorting to reruns.

FOX is taking the most dramatic approach with its scheduling. Instead of focusing on the traditional September-May schedule, the network plans to add new programming all year long.

"My frustration with the system is that we have been bound by certain practices that were born in a different era, that we are, at FOX, going to begin now pushing back on. The last time I checked, the calendar was 52 weeks long. That's how people watch television. They just want a good show on the air at some time. We are no longer going to be able to be in an environment where we heavy up on repeats certain times of the year," Kevin Reilly, FOX's chairman of entertainment, says. "The audience is less and less embracing of repeats in our network window. We're going to have less repeats and less fallow times of the year.

"We're going to be in more of a 12-month rollout, where there's something premiering throughout the year. And there are no times of year that are lesser than other times of year."

The old network model worked because TV watchers had to view programming when the network and cable companies decided to air them. But, the last few years have shown the greatest changes in TV viewing habits since families realized it was OK to have more than one TV set in the house.

The rapid rise of On Demand, Hulu, Netflix and a host of online sites to watch TV shows — coupled with the boom in DVD sets of full seasons of programs — means a large number of TV watchers no longer sit down in front of their sets when an episode of a series originally airs.

FOX officials estimate that more than a third of the audience for their top-rated programs don't view the show at the original time it airs but hours, days or even weeks later.

This change in viewing habits comes from viewers not wanting to wait months to see how a story line will progress that can be compounded by the airing or reruns in the middle of a TV season.

Dave Poltrack, chief research officer of CBS, says, "with DVR and VOD combined with the new online distribution platform, television viewing has been transformed. Today's viewer has been liberated from the constraints of linear access to television programming. From the early days of the DVR, pundits have seen the expansion of the viewer's access to television programming as a threat to the broadcast networks. We, on the other hand, have argued that greater access to television programs will benefit the most popular programs the most, presenting an opportunity for broadcast networks that control these programs."

So what does all this mean to viewers? The biggest plus is the increase in original programming on the networks. Anything that does away with reruns is a welcomed change. It also means the networks won't be judging the strength of a TV series based entirely on the Nielsen ratings that have been a measuring stick for decades. All of the alternative ways of viewing will be added together to create a clearer picture of which are the real popular programs and which truly deserve the ax.

As rapidly as viewing habits have been changing, these plans may be obsolete in a year.

TV and movie critic Rick Bentley can be reached at (559) 441-6355, rbentley@fresnobee.com or @RickBentley1 on Twitter. Read his blog at fresnobeehive.com.

The Fresno Bee is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service