As we all gather in our homes during this unusual circumstance and try to be productive—or not—one ancillary factor is bound to be an increase in TV viewing. In a few of the conversations I’ve had with some of my colleagues they’re seeing it as a boon for traditional TV. I’m not as optimistic as they are.
I agree that viewership will increase across the board and all time periods will benefit but I think that streaming will grow more than traditional. Traditional Daytime and News programming will see the greatest increase mostly because of the attention in these situations to news and, in the case of Daytime, simply more available viewers. Primetime viewing will also go up because restaurants, theaters, venues are closed. The problem is the traditional sellers (cable and broadcast networks) aren’t in a position to monetize this opportunity. At all. In fact, it may hurt them even more. Here’s why.
The sellers will have increased supply of viewership but their deals for March thru June and many through August, are already done. Most of those deals were done well before any inkling of the COVID-19 pandemic was apparent. No one could have predicted we’d all be home now for an extended period. There aren’t as many marketers bold enough to throw extra money into the market as there are pulling their schedules (movie studios, cruise lines, airlines, etc.). The boon is for the marketers already in who will get bonus impressions due to the surge in viewership.
The TV networks/stations won’t be able to upcharge until their selling period for the upfront and third quarter scatter, which will be late second quarter. Their risk is to overpromise ratings continuing at this level only to return to normal ratings when people get back to their normal routines.
The networks/stations price on supply/demand, as I’m sure you know, but for them to make more money they need more demand and lower supply. They need more marketers bidding on fewer rating points to get increases. They need multiple brands to have to buy more units to achieve the same weekly ratings as they had the prior year. What we’ll have here is the opposite. More supply and less demand. Pricing will actually go down. This is the game they chose to play when thy pushed for consolidated selling seasons instead of an open fluid market. They’ve been milking a system they created for their benefit and now at a time when they are relevant, they cannot capitalize.