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