Rick Bentley

TV has become vast watchland

Lexington (Kentucky) Herald-Leader file

Thursday is the final day of the Television Critics Summer Press Tour. After 17 days and hundreds of interviews, it’s time to start evaluating what are the best and worst new options for viewing.

That was easy even a decade ago. All TV viewers had to do was pick between the networks, PBS and a few cable channels. That’s been multiplied tenfold by the growth of more cable channels and online companies. Services Hulu, Crackle, Amazon Prime and Netflix have joined the struggle to grab the attention of viewers.

Even cable providers like DirecTV are in the hunt with original programming.

The TV world has become so jumbled, even those who work in the business are finding it difficult to remember all the players.

“We constantly update our scripted series chart, and we revised the total for 2014, which we gave you at the January press tour, upward from 352 to 371 original scripted series. By our best current estimates, we believe 2015 will easily blow through the 400 series mark,” says John Landgraf, CEO of FX Networks.

“I’m also asked when and if this proliferation of scripted series will level out and/or even decline. But just when I think we are at that point, another network jumps into the scripted game.”

Throw in a service like YouTube where there is 300 hours of programming posted every minute and the options for your viewing time keep growing.

One way to cheat a little is through some form of delayed viewing. CBS reports that DVR penetration has stalled at around 49 percent. Live TV viewing still dominates at 60 percent to 70 percent of overall viewership.

Video on Demand, and various other ways to watch TV, give you more viewing options. But, it’s still not enough to see even a tenth of what’s available.

The accepted theory has been that it has been the networks that have been losing all the viewers. And, while overnight ratings are nowhere near what they were 10-20 years ago, that’s not as important a measure as it used to be.

Network executives are looking at how much a show is viewed the day it airs, the next day, a week later or even as long as a month down the road.

David Poltrack, who is the king of statistics for CBS, says it’s a myth that TV viewership is shrinking.

“We know that live television viewing has declined as more viewing has been time shifted. We know that viewing on a television set is also declining slightly. But are the audiences to the most popular television programs actually declining? That is not the case,” Poltrack says. “Some of the viewing is moving out of the range of the current measurement services. Some of the viewing is moving from cable and over-the-air distribution to online streaming. More of the viewing is being done out of the home.”

Poltrack says that added up, the average audience of a CBS primetime program this season exceeded the level of 2003 – before all of the growth in television programming providers.

Viewers are watching all forms of TV. Helping you filter out the bad and focus on the good is why I make the TV tour a must-see event.

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