Too Many Shows, Too Little Time: The Fight To Be In TV Viewer’s Top 10 (2012)

TVsetNow that there are over 30 top TV networks vying for television viewers’ time and attention, plus hundreds more for those with cable or satellite packages, it has become harder and harder for viewers to find and sample new shows. In fact, with the average household DVR bursting at the seams trying to record one night of busy TV, viewers are more leery than ever of trying out new TV shows simply because they have too many shows to watch already.

Each time I propose to a friend or family member that they should check out a new TV show I hear the same thing: “I already have too many shows – I couldn’t possibly find the time to watch one more.” It’s simple math: the average person is willing to watch one or maybe two TV shows per night; that is approximately 10 hours of TV per week (assuming that the average viewer goes out Friday and Saturday nights).

So how does a new television show have any hope of finding an audience if modern television viewers are already maxed out on the number of shows they are willing to watch?

It is the conundrum that Hollywood has turned a blind-eye to in hopes that they can ignore the “white elephant” in the room (figuratively). Hollywood likes to believe that just because there is more to watch and more ways to watch TV shows that viewers will make the effort to watch them all. Frankly, that is absurd. Even seasoned, dedicated television viewers are feeling overwhelmed at the sheer number of show competing for their time. A TV critic may consistently manage to carve out a good chuck of their time to watch TV shows each week, but as one, even a TV critic feels the time-crunch and ever-increasing demand to watch more and more TV shows. Thus, it is unrealistic to imagine that the average viewer is going to watch as much someone whose job it is to watch TV.

What is the answer to this growing time-constraint problem? In desperation, viewers are depending more and more on DVRs and alternate ways to consume the television shows they are interested in.

Sunday nights are a prime example with its sheer number of hot “must-see” TV shows, including the likes of DEXTER, HOMELAND, THE GOOD WIFE, THE MENTALIST, ONCE UPON A TIME, REVENGE, BOARDWALK EMPIRE, THE WALKING DEAD (not to mention shows like COPPER and HELL ON WHEELS which also aired Sunday nights this Fall). That is 8-to-10 hours of shows and, for the average person, they will be lucky if they watch 4-hours and then DVR the remaining 4 shows. So when are they going to watch the remaining 4-to-6 hours of shows? They may try to watch those shows the following night, but then they may miss their Monday night shows. It either forces a viewer to postpone watching the remainder of their Sunday night shows until the following weekend, or to bounce out their weekday shows by one day each night of the week (watching Sunday shows on Monday, watching Monday shows on Tuesday, and so on).

Television is the richest it has ever been, and while it is enough to make any TV addicted viewer weep with joy – but it is also increasingly stressful. Viewers are not only straining to capture all the shows they want to watch on their DVRs, but they are also scrambling to find the time to watch all the shows.

It is a two-prong headache that modern viewers are dealing with daily: (1) how to record it all, and (2) when to watch it?

For many it has begun to feel like we are slaves to our TVs. We plan our lives around watching TV. We skip going out on Friday and Saturday nights simply because we need to catch up on our TV shows; and Sundays are devoted to chores and making sure the DVR is cleared off for the next round of shows for the next week. Accordingly, we have made watching TV an art form out of necessity.

So it is any wonder that as new shows are being promoted and advertised, the quick rush of excitement over something cool turns into a dull dread wondering if it will fit into our already jam-packed lives? Assuming the average viewer has their own personal Top 10 – coinciding with the available 10 hours of TV viewing time they have each week – how does one persuade or convince a viewer to forgo one of their favorites and try a new show? The answer is: you won’t.

TV viewers are remarkably loyal. They find something they like and they stick with it through the thick-and-thin. This is great for the handful of TV shows that they choose, but extremely bad news for the remaining shows deemed unworthy of their time. It is also why it is so hard for new shows to find an audience today as well. With less of the older TV shows being cancelled, it makes it impossible for new TV shows to be allowed the chance to find and audience and thrive.

Cracking the average television viewer’s Top 10 is essential if a TV show is going to survive. Otherwise it will be banished to “niche” audiences; people who have not committed to TV shows or the few who are willing to try something new. Cable TV (HBO, Showtime, Cinemax, Starz) has made a fortune off of catering to the “niche” — and mostly rich — TV viewers. Then there are the basic-cable TV providers (FX, AMC, A&E, TNT, USA Network, Syfy, MTV) who are siphoning off mainstream viewers, effectively creating their own “niche” audience – which explains the suddenly blossoming of such shows as THE WALKING DEAD and SONS OF ANARCHY. With the rapidly dwindling Nielsen ratings for the average TV show on the regular broadcast networks, the siphoning-effect to create a “niche” audience is something to be concerned about as well.

But regardless of what network a TV show is aired, the biggest concern is how to make a television show worthy of “Top 10” status. The biggest shows on TV today (according to Nielsen data for the week ending November 26, 2012) are: NCIS, NCIS: LOS ANGELES, THE BIG BANG THEORY, PERSON OF INTEREST, DANCING WITH THE STARS, TWO AND A HALF MEN, 60 MINUTES, and Sunday Night Football (with DWTS and football each taking up two hours worth of TV viewing time).

That’s the average TV viewer’s Top 10. This is all the TV they are willing to devote their precious free-time to. A TV viewer may squish in an extra hour or two, just to see what the big shocker of the week is on SCANDAL or to see if Emma and little Henry are reunited on ONCE UPON A TIME, or to check in on the new TV super duo Sherlock and Watson in ELEMENTARY, but it will be hard to convince most viewers to stray from their solidly entrenched viewing habits of: Sunday football and 60 MINUTES, Monday DANCING WITH THE STARS or THE VOICE, Tuesday NCIS/NCIS:LA, Wednesday MODERN FAMILY, Thursday THE BIG BANG THEORY and PERSON OF INTEREST. (Friday and Saturdays are brutal nights for television as they are tradition “date nights” or movie nights.

This means that new shows have a brutal time cracking into the primetime schedule and securing an audience. If a TV show is lucky enough to land in a key timeslot, they may still be shunned and ignored because viewers are already devoted to another show that night of the week. One good example is the fact that two of ABC’s new series LAST RESORT and 666 PARK AVENUE fell victim to this problem. Both found available timeslots on Thursday and Sunday nights, but were largely ignored by mass TV audiences because there were already too many shows demanding their attention those nights. (See above for the 8-12 shows that jammed up Sunday nights this Fall; and Thursdays were overloaded with PERSON OF INTEREST, THE BIG BANG THEORY, TWO AND A HALF MEN, ELEMENTARY, SCANDAL, GREY’S ANATOMY, COMMUNITY, 30 ROCK, PARKS AND REC, THE VAMPIRE DIARIES and BEAUTY AND THE BEAST.) “Must see TV” nights, when there are 8 plus hours of hot TV shows, will condemn any new show; LAST RESORT never had a chance on a night that was so jam-packed.

Television viewing is more strategic than ever before. With viewers demanding that television be flexible to their schedules, DVRs are a critical component. It also explains the burgeoning demand to be able to watch TV shows online. DVRs can only hold so many TV shows and with live viewing-time already at critical mass, viewers are turning to alternate ways to consume their TV shows.

Viewers want to toss out their personal Top 10 list for television and adapt to a Top 20 or Top 30 list of shows they can watch, but DVR-constraints and time-constraints in their own personal lives are making it difficult. This is the Pandora’s Box of the world we live in: too many shows, not enough time.

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