Every time I look at one of the programs for one of the now five general entertainment digital channels we have, I cannot help wishing that they would stop concentrating all of their key shows within prime time of 6pm – 12 midnight nightly, leaving the remaining 18 hours of the day filled with old movies, old TV shows, Home Shopping or other programming few people care about.
Sometimes it seems that, when flicking through the digital channels during the day, you are in a time warp performing a TV channel surf from the 80’s when you look at what is on 7mate, GEM and ELEVEN.
Yet at night time, there is the risk of there actually being too many choices meaning many viewers will miss out on watching shows they would have actually liked to watch due to recording or viewing conflicts. Add to that the fact that start and finish times different on every channel, and chances are, unless you have the ability to record unlimited shows at once, you will be left with having to let go of shows you may have liked to watch* (see end of post for classic recording conflict example).
These general entertainment digital channels may be enjoying unprecedented success now in summer, with the main channels in summer non ratings mode, but as soon as the new and premium content returns in February, the digitals will again be deserted, leaving many first run shows on digital channels with ratings lower than what they deserve.
Obviously, programming for prime time is to maximise ratings for the only time of the day ratings count for anything: 6pm – midnight. But while this time accounts for most people’s TV viewing, it is not the only time many of us watch TV.
The solution to the problem is to repeat first run prime time content on digital channels later at night or during the following day, classification permitting. This allows the viewer to catch a show they may not have been able to, or even bothered to, during prime time due to conflicts with other shows. Only GO! and GEM seem to do this for some shows**.
GO! – so far Australia’s number one multi channel – does repeat its prime time content outside of prime time thereby giving viewers an alternative time to watch or record the shows they want to watch, and avoiding prime time conflicts. Looking at The Vampire Diaries on GO! as an example, usually around 150,000 watch its first run at 8.30pm Monday nights (it‘s back Jan 31), another 100,000 watch the late night encore either live or via a recording***.
While this does result in the viewer watching the repeat or encore outside of prime time, it can in fact have the effect of luring the viewer into the shows – especially if it is new – meaning they may chose it over their other choice to watch in prime time. Therefore there is a potential ratings benefit to repeating or encoring digital channel prime time shows outside of prime time.
This reasoning is exactly why the networks encore new showed aired on their main channel. Problem is, they only do so for the first few weeks, and generally, do not tell us when the encore will be on. Their aim is to have us all watching when the show first airs. There have been a few exceptions in 2010, most notable The Block 2010 and Survivor Nicaragua on Nine, The X Factor on Seven encored on 7TWO.
But now with so many free to air channels – in fact more then there were Pay TV channels when Pay TV started out in 1995 – the networks have to become more flexible with programming in order to help protect and build their new multi channel brands. They have to program outside of 6pm – midnight with repeats or encores of first run content to ensure viewers will still remain interested in these channels once the main channels are back in full ratings season swing.
They have to consider start and finishing times of shows to allow viewers to make the choice or to program their PVRs effectively. It is no good for example, having a show start on 7TWO at 8.30, still being advertised as “coming up next on 7TWO” on a 7.30 show on Seven still running at 8.37!
If they don’t, viewers will simply look at the schedules for the multi channels thinking “yeah – I’d like to watch that … but I can’t – it’s on the same time as …” or “when is it on again? – do I have to wait six months for a repeat – or will they repeat it…?” or “maybe it‘ll be on Pay TV as well later?”. Not everything has a catch up online. Not everyone even wants to go online to catch up on what they missed on TV.
In conclusion, the free to air space has to evolve to make the most of multi channelling. It has to think outside the space of prime time when ratings count and program for the other 18 hours of the day. It needs to consider the viewer more than it does now. It needs to look at Pay TV as an example of how to handle multi channelling.
I can assure you, Pay TV would not be anywhere today if it did not give viewers the options it does now.
Yes, we have more free to air channels than ever before, but what use is that if all these channels have their best content on all at the same time, with nothing else to watch at other times?
* I remember one night during ratings, I was recording a show on Ten at 7.30 and another on Seven at 7.30. At the same time, also watching something else. Then at 8.30, I wanted to record a show on ABC1 as well as another on Nine. At 9.30, a show on Ten, another on GO! Two shows at the same time, different channels. In theory, any twin tuner PVR should handle it right?
No. The 7.30 show on Seven updated to finish at 8.37. Ten’s 8.39. Meanwhile, the 8.30 show on Nine was to start at 8.33, while the show on ABC1 had 8.35 as a start time. That meant the PVR would had to have been recording three channels at once from 8.33 – 8.35, then four at once 8.35 – 8.37, three at once again 8.37 – 8.39, then back to two at once after 8.39.
At 9.30, The GO! show started at 9.29 – but because there was a repeat at 1am, I simply moved it there to record. The show on ABC1 finished at 9.35, the show on Nine 9.33. Ten started 9.37 – as I was able to move the GO! show to 1am, no conflicts at the 9.30 change over.
But with the 8.30 change over – I had to decide what I could miss out on and manually program around all the different start and finish times. It meant, for both 8.30 shows I missed the first 4 minutes or so. All while I was watching something else already recorded from earlier – so choosing to watch one live was not an option.
Yes, the networks, in having shows finishing late hope people miss out on the start of other shows on other channels. But – if the show you missed the first few minutes of is better than the one that finishes late – what are you going to do? You will either abandon the first one altogether or not care about the last few minutes of the show. The late finishing times can go either way.
The following week, when faced with the same problem, I did indeed drop one of the 7.30 shows as the 8.30 shows were better. Had they have finished on time, and allowed better planning for recording or watching other channels, I would have stuck with all shows.
** An even better solution to the whole problem is that ratings should count for all 24 hours of the day. That would guarantee more quality programming outside of prime time on free to air channels. This, however, is another discussion for another day!
*** OzTam five city figures, live, as live and consolidated.