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Be Very Afraid, Network TV

Be Very Afraid, Network TV 

…cuz Cable is coming for ya!

Ok I am being dramatic but I am also being serious. TV Execs have decided to bombard us on Sundays. Sunday just has a lot going on – Walking Dead, The Bible, Game of Thrones, The Good Wife, Celebrity Apprentice, Revenge, Real Housewives of Atlanta and others. Everyone was curious about yesterday’s outcome because it was a big night. The Bible, a surprise ratings hit for the History Channel, was having it’s final chapter of its mini series. The Walking Dead, AMC’s cult hit was having its Season 3 season finale and HBO fan favorite, Game of Thrones was having a Season 3 premiere. Well, how did they stack up?

Game of Thrones had 4.4 million viewers (HBO is a subscription channel so usually doesn’t have as big a number as others, so this is really good)

The Bible had 11.7 million

The Walking Dead won the night with 12.4 million viewers.

You may be wondering what the fuss is about and I’ll be glad to tell you. There was a time these numbers were unheard of for cable TV. These were numbers you saw on regular network TV but even now a show on Network TV is lucky to break 10 million, the big numbers lately seem to be from their sports shows. To give perspective, the biggest numbers on Network TV was the NCAA championship on CBS. New episodes of Revenge and The Good Wife had 5 million and 8 million respectively. Bravo’s highest watched reality show, The Real Housewives of Atlanta had 3.3 million for it’s finale last night compared to a new episode of ABC’s Red Widow that drew 4 million. That’s so crazy to me that a reality show and a drama series are that close in ratings.

The slow decline of ratings on Network TV makes me think that they should be wary for a number of reasons. Gone are the days where you only had the Big 4 channels (and CW), cable has expanded rapidly with a whole lot of channel options and these channels aren’t sitting on their laurels, they’ve given us quality shows like Breaking Bad, Mad Men, Sons of Anarchy to name a few. Cable doesn’t have as much restriction as network TV and some have argued that this helps them better flesh out a story to its maximum, I tend to agree with this and so do most award institutions because in the past years more nominees have come from cable tv than from network tv. Another thing to consider, is the new successful mode of broadcasting as showcased by Netflix’s House of Cards. More shows are being developed and more companies eg Amazon is getting in on the act. Should they be worried? The last thing that makes me think they should be worried is quite frankly, I don’t have faith as much faith in Network TV as I used to. I start a show and I am not sure how long it’ll be on the air. So if I have to pick between starting a show on Network TV or starting one on Cable, I’d go with Cable because there’s a much higher chance of it being on air for much longer.

What do you guys think?

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  1. Kash

    I watch more network TV shows than cable but I still appreciate cable tv very much. Umm do you watch Red Widow? If so, is it worth me getting into?

  2. Omagus

    I feel that we’re seeing the beginning of a trend where scripted shows will become the province of cable (and subscription services like Netflix or Amazon) while traditional over the air networks are going to focus on events that can be aired live (sports, competition shows like American Idol or The Voice, reality shows like Survivor, etc). In some ways it’s similar to how radio had to change its format to primarily music once television began airing the scripted shows that radio previously had.

    Once HBO got into the business of showing original programming, it showed just how much of an advantage cable has. Cable does not answer to the FCC, thus it can depict language, sex and violence that networks cannot. And premium cable channels have even more of an advantage since ratings are less important to them than subscriptions. HBO doesn’t care if you watch Game of Thrones at Sunday night at 8PM. You can watch it when it airs a different time, or on another one of HBO’s channels, or OnDemand, or on HBOGO. As long as you’re paying that monthly fee, HBO wins. On the other hand, CBS desperately needs viewers to watch The Good Wife when it initially airs.

    I’m really curious to see what kind of impact Netflix has on this whole thing. House of Cards was all the rage when it was first released but that buzz has died down since viewers were able to immediately watch all 10 episodes. The thing that has really lifted HBO, AMC and FX has been their ability to air shows year round, allowing these networks to remain buzz-worthy all the time. I don’t know if Netflix has that option anymore, since it set a precedent with House of Cards. But it will be interesting to watch.

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