Thursday, October 8, 2009

Has the real-time web killed TV programming?

Never has the television industry been more hap-hazard in its programming than right now.

We have seen it coming for a few years now and I suspect that, in Australia at least, we may have seen a watershed in the industry with the phoenix-like rise and Icarus-like fall of Hey-Hey it's Saturday, all within one week.

But to truly get a grip on how a show of such historic proportions can rise and fall in a single week we must back-track a couple of years. We're going to a time after live debates and the 'worm' but before the real-time Internet. Let's go to the late-late night time slots that were once inhabited by a motley band of money-bag grabbers that were the late-night quiz shows.

These pre-real-time-interwebz quiz shows, of which Quizmania and Midnight Zoo were poster-childs, relied on the interaction of at-home participants ringing in to try and solve puzzles to win money. Masses of calls would flood the TV shows with ample amounts of would-be contestants queuing to win.

The biggest insight TV stations gained from these shows was that the real-time nature of viewers calling in allowed TV show directors to know what was popular and what was un-popular AT HOME based on the levels of calls coming into the show. An example could be that the host of the quiz waves his arms around and yells out 'money, money, money', from this the person monitoring the caller dashboard sees a spike in calls to the show. The director then tells the host through an earpiece mic to wave his arms again and ta-da another spike in calls. Real-time TV production.

Fast forward to October 2009. The real-time Internet is in full swing. TV shows no longer rely on viewers calling in because the viewers are already swarming with conversation on Twitter, Facebook, and other social websites. Enter stage left, Daryl Somers and Hey-Hey it's Saturday the Reunion.

It's a gamble for Channel Nine, a live TV show in prime-time and we haven't seen this show in over a decade. But they had an ace up their sleeve. Real-time monitoring. Just as Quizmania and Midnight Zoo used real-time monitoring of phone calls to judge the shows success, so too would Hey-Hey use real-time monitoring of the social web to measure the performance of the show.

And it worked. The Facebook fan page was a-buzz, Twitter went off the hook and got a little-known TV show trending with the US big guns. Results were in, it was a hit again.

One week on, take-two. This time the producers were confident they knew the forumla. The host announced the Twitter hash-tags they would monitor and kept the audience updated with a Facebook fan tally. The real-time show and the real-time web were in synch.

Here comes the sun, the programming pot of gold, it was in their reach. But alas, Hey-Hey flew too close to the sun and the popular tale of Icarus was played out all over again for the world to watch. It was a curious choice of skits for the carefully planned return of this much loved show. A group of men doing Michael Jackson in Minstrel Show style. Unsurprisingly it didn't go off well. The show's big name guest didn't like it, the audience was a little awry and the response was probably closer to absolute zero than a scientist has ever seen.

Real-time show, real-time web: press play. I bet the producer monitoring the real-time sentiment graphs was already on the phone to a recruitment agency before the show was even over.

For a full report on the crash landing of Hey-Hey it's Saturday view the Crikey dishonour board. I suspect we will not see week three of the reunion.

The lesson learnt from this saga is, as we have known for a little while now, that TV lives and dies by the audience. Pre-social-web a TV station could sell ads for a whole season of a TV show. Then it was months at a time. Now, unfortunately TV programmers have the inglorious task of trying to program on a week-by-week basis and the sales team have the even worse job of trying to sell ads to a show that might not even exist in a week.

TV programming is dead.

I think marketers need to think hard about where they put their dollars, stop planning above-the-line spend annually, and generally agree that TV, once the bastion of marketing spend, is now a risky investment.

No comments: