NIGHT FIGHT

What nights of the week do tele­vi­sion net­works want to win and how does that af­fect your week? Philip Wake­field re­ports.

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Thank God it’s Fri­day – un­less you want to watch thought-pro­vok­ing tele­vi­sion. Most of the free-to-air net­works write off the end of the week and air re­al­ity shows, light en­ter­tain­ment and bar­gain-bin movies af­ter front-load­ing the start of the week with pre­mium drama and com­edy.

Such riches-to-rags pro­gram­ming is why video recorders and hard-disc recorders have to work overtime on Sun­days, Mon­days and Tues­days.

The chan­nels sched­ule their most pop­u­lar or pres­ti­gious pro­grammes on Sun­days to Tues­days so their ad­ver­tis­ers can reach as many con­sumers as pos­si­ble. Not only are more peo­ple then at home watch­ing tele­vi­sion but also they’re more at­ten­tive ear­lier in the week than later.

‘‘Sun­days are im­por­tant for ma­jor ad­ver­tis­ers for ma­jor prod­uct launches,’’ says Rick Friesen, the chief ex­ec­u­tive of the free-to-air broad­cast­ers group, Think TV. ‘‘You’re go­ing to see more new ads that night than any other night.’’

Tac­ti­cal ad­ver­tis­ing, which plugs ev­ery­thing from gro­ceries to movies to chain store sales, dom­i­nates prime­time Wed­nes­day-Fri­day, on the eve of key shop­ping days.

So gen­er­ally view­ers can ex­pect to see the week’s top prop­er­ties on Sun­days and Mon­days, more jour­ney­man fare mid-week and lighter, life­style-ori­ented shows at the week­end. ‘‘Es­sen­tially the pro­gram­ming line-up on all chan­nels weak­ens as we move through the week,’’ says me­dia buyer, John Dee, of JDee Me­dia.

‘‘It all be­comes self-ful­fill­ing: view­ers know there’s noth­ing much on TV on Fri­day and Satur­day, so they plan other ac­tiv­i­ties. View­ing drops so the chan­nels sched­ule weaker con­tent, which ful­fils view­ers’ per­cep­tions that there’s noth­ing worth watch­ing – ‘so let’s do some­thing else’.’’

But the net­works know the more view­ers they can draw at the start of the week, the bet­ter their prospects of re­tain­ing most of them come the week­end. ‘‘The chan­nel that wins the weekly rat­ings is the one that gen­er­ally rates strongly at the start of the night,’’ Dee points outs.

That’s partly be­cause Sun­day and Mon­day jug­ger­nauts can be used to pro­mote other shows on the same net­work.

‘‘You put your pro­mos in those big shows so they’re seen by more peo­ple,’’ says vet­eran programmer Karen Bieleski, who pro­grammed TV One and Prime be­fore tak­ing charge of Sky’s en­ter­tain­ment chan­nels.

‘‘There’s also merit and a cer­tain pres­tige value in putting pre­mium shows ear­lier in the week. You still want those brag­ging rights of catch­ing peo­ple’s at­ten­tion early in the week.

‘‘And how you pro­gramme your net­work on Sun­day/Mon­day nights sets your per­cep­tual tone for the rest of the week. It will in­flu­ence how peo­ple view your chan­nel.’’

For in­stance, TV One tra­di­tion­ally has aired qual­ity Bri­tish and New Zealand drama on Sun­day nights, al­though in the last few years this has given way to more pop­ulist fare like MasterChef NZ and Crim­i­nal Minds.

Prime, how­ever, still re­serves its blue-chip doc­u­men­taries slot, Prime Presents, for Sun­days, and is soon to use the night for show­cas­ing pe­riod drama like Down­ton Abbey and Up­stairs, Down­stairs.

Prime also dif­fers from TV One, TV2 and TV3 by coun­ter­pro­gram­ming rather than ad­her­ing to sched­ul­ing wis­dom. For in­stance, it sched­ules doc­u­men­taries on Fri­day evenings when its big­ger ri­vals over­dose on light en­ter­tain­ment and re­al­ity, even though pro­gram­ming prac­tice dic­tates view­ers aren’t in the mood for do­cos or se­ri­ous drama at the end of a work­ing week.

‘‘By putting good prod­uct on in the week­end, we got a name, so we went in that direc­tion,’’ says Bieleski, cit­ing the suc­cess of the Week­end Mur­ders strand.

In the United States, the old­est skew­ing net­work, CBS, has had its bid to re­ju­ve­nate Fri­days re­warded with the Tom Sel­leck po­lice drama, Blue Bloods, be­com­ing one of the sea­son’s most pop­u­lar new­com­ers (it will screen here on TV One).

De­bate in the US over whether Fri­day is where good shows go to die also has been height­ened when Fox reschedul­ing Fringe to that night. Scep­tics dis­missed the move as the kiss of death but it has turned out to be re­sus­ci­ta­tive and ap­par­ently has as­sured Fringe of a fourth sea­son (TV2 is still air­ing the sec­ond).

Net­works can use lower-rat­ing nights to not only nur­ture strug­gling se­ries but also launch risky new­com­ers in rel­a­tively pro­tected slots – wit­ness TV3’s suc­cess with its Kiwi come­dies, most no­tably 7 Days, and its sig­na­ture med­i­cal drama, House.

While Fri­day and Satur­day nights can draw more view­ers with bet­ter con­tent, net­works have to con­sider the ben­e­fit-cost ra­tio. ‘‘Net­works can win (a greater au­di­ence) share by putting more pop­u­lar shows on Fri­daySatur­day nights but they can’t win an au­di­ence that’s not there,’’ Friesen ar­gues.

‘‘They’re likely to get more value from block­buster pro­gram­ming on nights when more peo­ple are watch­ing TV.’’

Friesen be­lieves the frag­men­ta­tion of chan­nels means one net­work no longer can dic­tate the sched­ul­ing of oth­ers, as TV One did in its hey­day.

But Dee reck­ons a chan­nel as pop­u­lar as TV2 can still in­flu­ence the competition’s de­ci­sion mak­ing. ‘‘The other chan­nels need to con­sider what to sched­ule against TV2 that of­fers a true al­ter­na­tive,’’ he says.

Philip Wake­field has fol­lowed the tele­vi­sion in­dus­try for many years and blogs on the New Zealand high def­i­ni­tion mar­ket at screen­scribe.tv

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