Archive for TV – Page 2

Friday Finds: “Lodge 49”

Friday Finds shares a piece of content I’ve recently discovered on broadcast, cable, or streaming TV.

Today’s find: Lodge 49
Genre: Hour comedy
Origin: AMC Prods.
Find it on: AMC, season 1 (10x)

Lodge 49 posterLodge 49 has just ended its season run on AMC, and it’s taken me that long to consider writing about it. It’s a difficult to describe hour – mostly comedy, some drama, and a lot of quirky.

The series features famous offspring Wyatt Russell (son of Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russel, as Dud) and Sonya Cassidy (as Dud’s sister, Liz). Lodge 49 looks at the struggles of these “adult” children as they deal with the death of their father and their own issues through the use of a lot of symbolism and allegory.

The Lodge 49 of the title is the Long Beach-located branch of a slowly decaying fraternal order. However, the lodge setting provides much of the amusing whimsy in the series. Is there really some magic or special powers behind the usual grandiose trappings of the order? This may be, but the lodge serves the plot as the locus of all the quirky souls who cross paths in the course of the series.

Also prominently featured in the first season are Brent Jennings, playing Ernie, a Don Quixote to Dud’s Sancho Panza; Linda Emond as Connie, Ernie’s erstwhile girlfriend; and the always enjoyable Bruce Campbell as The Captain. A variety of interesting character actors fill out the large cast. The final episode introduces a new character to whom we can hopefully look forward in season two; look quickly or he’ll be “up in smoke.”

Character-Driven Creative

Lodge 49 is definitely a shaggy dog story; it takes its own sweet time moving around Long Beach and this story of its denizens. If you have a weakness for character-driven series, give it a try. Lodge 49 is currently available through AMC pay TV VOD, AMC streaming, or for purchase at Amazon Prime Video.

Dave the Research Grouch: iSpot.TV and MediaPost

Fall is in the air, Christmas ads have started on TV, and the Research Grouch has emerged Grinch-like from his cave. Today’s offenders are iSpotTV and MediaPost – because it always takes a company looking for publicity and a news outlet to publish it.

iSpot.TV logoThursday’s story in MediaPost, “Shorter TV Ads Command More Viewer Attention,” discussed findings from iSpot.TV’s analysis of “37,854 TV commercials across 4.7 million TV ad airings.” The first alarm bells go off. Usually, when huge numbers are tossed around, it’s often to try to legitimize sketchier numbers to follow – as if large sample sizes are some sort of guarantee of quality.

Strike Out

The article noted several differences in “Attention Score” – a score which was undefined. I don’t expect to be told how it’s calculated, but I do expect to be told how “attention” is defined, since presumably these are calculated solely from digital data and not from tracking eye-gaze. Strike one on MediaPost.

Strike two comes from the conclusion that 10 second commercials have a better Attention Score than do 30 second ads. The scores are “91.0 to 91.5” and “90.0”, respectively. But no context is given in the article as to what is a significant difference. Delving into iSpot.TV’s own report, they do actually say a difference of “a few points is significant.” Assuming “a few” has its typical meaning, this would be 3 to 4 points. Applying this to the headline finding, and the difference of 1 to 1.5 points is not really significant.

Another difference called out as “much more notable”, between the 10 second spots and 60 second spots (a score of 88 to 88.5, and thus a difference of 1.5 to 2 points), appears to also not be significant.

Strike three on the MediaPost article, or at least a foul tip, is not questioning the inclusion of 10 second ads. Does anyone actually sell those? I’ve heard of 6s, 15s, and 30s, but I’ve not read about 10s being a standard length for TV commercials. A curious choice by iSpot.TV.

Credit Where It’s Due

I will give some credit to iSpot.TV for publishing a report on which the MediaPost article was based (free to download if you give them your email info). And they get credit for including the significance information that was lacking in the article. However, nowhere in the report, or anywhere on the iSpot.TV website, is the derivation of the Attention Score addressed. To me, attention is only measured by actual eyes-on or ears-on an ad. I’m very curious how it is defined in this case.

As I’ve mentioned before in this space, I don’t expect writers to be experts on research, but there should be some level of intellectual curiosity rather than just regurgitating a press release. And I don’t expect companies to give away proprietary information, but if you’re going to publicize something, at least give enough information to answer some basic research questions about your service.

David Tice is the principal of TiceVision LLC, a media research consultancy.
Read his new book, “The Genius Box” – details here
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My New Book, “The Genius Box”

The Genius Box coverAs a reader of my blog, I hope you will be as excited as I am about the publication of my first book, The Genius Box: How the “Idiot Box” Got Smart & Is Changing the Television Business – not by coincidence being launched during the debut week of the Fall broadcast season.

Put very briefly, the book explores the evolution of the TV set and of the relationship between viewers and their sets… and the impact of this evolution on various stakeholders in the TV ecosystem such as content creators, content distributors, advertisers, measurement companies, CE companies, and the government.

I’ve had this book in my head for several years and finally had the opportunity to tackle the task of writing the book in the months following my departure from the corporate research world last fall. We all know TV is being disrupted; I found out so too are books, thus I self-published this book – but more on that in a subsequent blog post.

The Genius Box is currently available in paperback or Kindle format at Amazon, or in e-book format at B&N and Apple iBooks. Over the coming weeks, it will become available at most major online book sellers.

More details on the book, and resources for the press or reviewers, can also be found on The Genius Box pages on the TiceVision website here.

David Tice is the principal of TiceVision LLC, a media research consultancy.
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Are Special Events Special Anymore?

Emmys statueTo perhaps no one’s surprise, the audience for this year’s Emmys broadcast on NBC fell 10 percent from 2017. This means there is a 35 percent fall from the last time NBC aired the awards in 2014. With many hanging their hats on these type of live special events keeping traditional TV relevant, this is not good news. This is particularly true in light of year-to-year declines in other awards shows like the the Grammys (-24%), Oscars (-20%), and Golden Globes (-5%). Only the Tonys showed a stable audience this year, albeit declining long term.

Not-So-Special

What’s contributing to these special events becoming less special? There are a number of possible reasons. Here’s a few from my perspective:

— The increase in viewer choice and purposeful viewing. Created by the same SVOD services that are winning a notable number of Emmys, this means no more viewing of the “least objectionable program.” Would you rather watch a new episode of Jack Ryan on Amazon Prime, or stars slapping each other on the back?

— The same increase in content and viewer fragmentation means less relevance of an Emmy win. I’m a fan of The Marvelous Mrs Maisel, and voted for it on my Emmy ballot, but how widely did its big win on Monday night resonate? There are no audience numbers publicly published for Maisel. But in a recent MediaPost report, 76 percent of adults were totally unaware of Maisel. Why watch the Emmys if you’ve never heard of, much less watched, the nominated programs?

— Our changing media dynamic now means that our favorite stars are posting to Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and elsewhere seemingly every day. Whatever mystique there is to seeing stars out of character and being “themselves” is long past.

— And our country’s unfortunate current political dynamic means some people won’t watch award shows because they interpret the entertainment industry to be the domain of liberals. Or, like myself, they want entertainment without a lecture by either side of the political spectrum. I doubt many people tune in to awards shows to become more “woke.” There are more appropriate platforms to change hearts and minds.

Is There a Solution

What’s the solution? I doubt if there is one. At least for the Emmys, the amount of content is unlikely to subside, meaning less viewers per nominated show, and more options for those who don’t want to watch the awards at all. Tweaking the shows to be tighter, shorter, and more entertaining couldn’t hurt. But with the quick collapse of the Oscars’ proposed “popcorn” award, it’s evident that both the industry and the public will see through inauthentic attempts to boost the audience.

David Tice is the principal of TiceVision LLC, a media research consultancy.
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Channels tuned or streams viewed – few watch it all

Nielsen logo
Nielsen just released their annual estimate of linear TV channels tuned by TV homes, and the proportion is down to a little more than 7 percent. This represents a decline of about half in the past decade (15% in 2006).

This trend would have been more useful with an accompanying trend in the denominator, channels received. Doing a little digging on Google, I found that in 2006 Nielsen reported TV homes received 88 channels. In 2016, the average number was a little over 200, so for the sake of argument I’ll use 200.

Let’s Do the Math

Not surprising for those in the know, this means that the average number of linear channels tuned has remained relatively constant. It was roughly 13 channels in 2006, compared with 15 in 2017. Neither the doubling of linear channels available, nor the massive increase in streaming options since 2006 (not accounted for here at all), seems to have had much impact on this average tuned number.

No doubt some will jump on Nielsen’s report as justification for moving to an “a la carte” pay TV subscription system or evidence of how pay TV offerings don’t address consumer wants. There is certainly an argument to be made that today’s TV network groups put out too many channels, in an attempt akin to CPG companies grabbing as much shelf space as they can command. But does the seemingly low proportion of channels viewed really mean consumers aren’t being served?

Let’s look at other subscribed media. Satellite radio? About five channels of the 100+ channels on SiriusXM take up 90% of my listening time. Newspaper? I might fully read one article per section. Magazines? This varies a lot. I read almost all of The Economist every week, but maybe one article out of the 25 in each month’s Road & Track; other magazines fall somewhere in between. SVOD services? I watch only a handful of their original series. While this is anecdotal, it is reasonable to assume most subscribers fully consume only a small portion of the content available.

Are Subscriptions Socialized Media?

The point here is that almost every medium that relies on a subscription model offers far more content than any one of its users either want or have time to consume. This bundling is a sort of social contract with your other subscribers – you each are subsidizing the other so that in total the overall costs are lower for everyone to get the content in which they are interested.

So the next time someone pulls out this share of TV channels in an argument, I’m going to ask what proportion of the 700 original Netflix series and movies produced in 2018 they watched. I’m guessing it’s not more than seven percent either.

I’ve Got a Bad Feeling About This, Disney-style

It was with some surprise that I read about Disney wanting to buy back the rights to Star Wars movies it had sold to Turner for broadcast on TBS and TNT. Not too surprised they wanted the rights back with the launch of the Disney streaming service in the next year, but surprised that someone at Disney – in 2016 – thought it was a good idea to sell those rights for an eight year period.

In today’s (or even 2016’s) TV/streaming environment, eight years is a lifetime. Even the agreement Disney signed with Netflix in 2012, which only kicked in as of 2016, was able to be terminated rather quickly (seemingly with one year’s notice) once Disney decided in 2017 to launch its own service.

Even more curious is that the Turner agreement was announced in September 2016, a month after Disney’s acquisition of MLBAM was announced (and presumably many months after that acquisition was put into play). MLBAM was projected by many at the time as being acquired to be the backbone for future ESPN and Disney streaming services. It certainly gives the appearance that Disney’s divisions were walking out of step in this case.

It does bring up the interesting issue for content owners in the future – do they try to pull all their premiere content back into their verticals to feed their own streaming services? While this would seem to make sense from a competitive point of view, it does bring up another question – is it serving their shareholders? Presumably licensing fees would be lower by avoiding a true marketplace auction for their content, and that could make media companies vulnerable to shareholder complaints or even legal action.

Of course, self-dealing is nothing new in television. It’s just taken on another wrinkle to navigate in this new world of streaming, frenemies, and consolidation.

Will Comcast Set Us Free From STBs?

Comcast Xfinity logoIn what should be a surprise to no one, Comcast is pushing forward to eliminate its set-top boxes (STBs) in homes with connected TVs. The surprise is that it’s taken this long.

For pay TV companies like Comcast, this is a no brainer. From a systems development perspective, these companies have been held back by the multitude of STBs they have to manage that are of different ages, models, and manufacturers. In a real sense, their innovations could only be as good as the worst box to which they still had to design.

For consumers, this is a welcome step in the right direction. As I’ve noted a number of times over the years, viewers prefer to reduce their boxes and have those services as downstream towards their sets as possible – preferably built into the set. This is why TiVo’s separate boxes lost out to less-capable DVRs built right into pay TV STBs. Or in the VCR and DVD era,  combo TV sets had those devices built right in. Or why today Roku and FireTV software are consolidated into sets.

For a number of years, pay TV providers have offered a STB work-around through their mobile apps. I often use my FiOS app on a tablet to search, set my DVR, or change channels. But unlike my old Comcast Xfinity app, it doesn’t allow me to initiate a VOD program on my TV set (yes, I’m one of the few who frequently uses VOD). This is a big drawback as it means I still have to struggle with my remote and the clunky STB interface.

The Revenue Hole

This evolution towards a totally app-based interface is welcome to both sides. It can only improve the user experience. But the interesting question is how will pay TV services make up the loss of rental fees for their boxes and the remotes. This is not an insignificant number considering the average pay TV home having about three sets. That’s roughly $25-30 a month that will be lost to a pay TV provider when a home goes connected. I suspect an “app convenience fee” or something is in our future, as the price of the replacement of our STBs.

David Tice is the principal of TiceVision LLC, a media research consultancy.
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From Replay to Roku

There were a couple of interesting stories in the past week on Roku and its CEO, Anthony Wood.

The first, published by MediaPost, discussed Anthony Wood’s history in ReplayTV and then Roku. I had not realized that the same person was behind both devices. Talk about having a good eye for the future! replayTV logoReplayTV, as some may remember, was TiVo’s main competitor when DVRs hit the market in 1999. Similar to the BetaMax versus VHS debate when VCRs emerged, ReplayTV was generally seen as superior to TiVo. But like the BetaMax, it quickly fell to the wayside. Of course, TiVo was never a big hit either – most consumers got DVRs packaged within their pay-TV set-top boxes – but it has managed to survive by licensing its software and leveraging its viewer data.

Roku

Wood then launched Roku in 2002. It has been far more successful than Roku logoReplayTV, leading the market in streaming video boxes even as tech giants Apple (Apple TV), Google (Chromecast), and Amazon (Fire TV) each entered the market. But like the DVR, the drawback of streaming boxes is that the value is in the software, not the physical box. One factor is that the margins on manufacturing boxes quickly drop as physical product is commoditized by multiple entrants. The other is that consumers prefer to reduce set-top boxes and move features as downstream as possible, preferably into the TV set itself.

The second article, from The Verge, discusses the ways Roku is trying to broaden its base away from relying on sales of their boxes and sticks. Wood admits that device sales do not cover Roku’s cost of doing business. These newer revenue streams include licensing their software to TV manufacturers to build directly into sets, selling advertising that is delivered to viewers of the various channels available through Roku, and the build-out of their own, ad-supported Roku Channel. More of a head-scratcher is their recent entry into the wireless speaker space – presumably a low-margin, crowded market.

I’ll Have What He’s Having

Wood’s track record certainly shows he’s had his crystal ball tuned to the right channel for two major TV developments in the past 20 years – DVRs and streaming. It behooves us all to see what he thinks is next – even if his business plans don’t always keep pace with his technology innovations.

David Tice is the principal of TiceVision LLC, a media research consultancy.
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Netflix muzzles viewer reaction to their algorithms

Netflix logoAn interesting thing happened on the way to Netflix’s world video dominance, driven by their inscrutable algorithms. The opinions of actual viewers have been tuned down or out by Netflix.

A year ago, their viewer rating system was neutered with a switch from a five-point rating scale to a simple thumbs up/thumbs down. This change was explained away as a way to improve user experience. But it may have had more to do with avoiding middling ratings for Netflix originals when viewers compared potential viewing choices. A less discrete measure evens things up.

This neutering is furthered this year by the closing of the viewer comment section on Netflix. Doubtless this is somewhat driven by the troll mentality found anywhere online comments are allowed. But it also means that Netflix users cannot now comment on their content – or see previous comments. This again could influence viewer choice and decisions.

Netflix may trying to deal with the reality that a firehose of content isn’t going to generate hit after hit, even with high-level data analytics. By reducing the context of a viewing decision, they can improve the chances of their less-successful originals to be picked.

Batting .350 Is a Success in TV, Too

Of course, there has always been the argument that if there was some way to analytically improve creative development, wouldn’t broadcast and cable networks have figured out some way in the past to improve their pipeline? In the 2009 through 2015 broadcast seasons, an average of 64% of new scripted broadcast programs were not renewed. And that “failure” proportion would be even higher if cancelled pilots and non-renewals after a second season are included. An improvement of even ten percentage points would have huge impact on networks – and still, half of programs would fail. But no secret formula – star, logline, or format – seemed to consistently explain success or failure.

There is no doubt that Netflix’s algorithms can identify many viewer segments to target. Data can help with green-lighting and marketing new series. But the bug in the machine is that television is a creative medium – and data crunching can’t help bad writing, directing, or casting. As Netflix seems to be heading towards premium pricing, the least they can do is let their viewers keep their say.

David Tice is the principal of TiceVision LLC, a media research consultancy.
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RSNs not VIPs in Merger Deals

[update: the day after this was posted, the Dept of Justice approved the terms of the Disney-Fox deal provided Disney divest itself of the Fox RSNs]

FSN Southeast logoRecent reports in the trades say that both Disney and Comcast are willing to divest the regional sports networks (RSNs) owned by 21st Century Fox to facilitate their proposed purchase of Fox assets. An interesting development, especially since each would be the most likely partner in such a divestment by the other.

RSNs are interesting beasts. There are about 40 RSNs in the USA serving the 82 local major league professional franchises in MLB, the NHL, and the NBA. 20 of these are owned by Fox, 8 by Comcast (NBC Sports), and the remainder split between AT&T, Charter, and independent owners. While most serve all the franchises in their region, a few are dedicated to just one or two teams.

RSNs have a strong local presence. Their connection to their respective “home teams” creates a substantial halo that rubs off on advertisers. This was established at least as far back as 2006, when I executed research for Fox Sports Net. This study conclusively showed the benefits of advertising in RSN MLB coverage versus generic MLB national games. It was repeated with similar results for local NBA teams.

However, despite their success at the local level, the Fox RSNs resisted tries to weave together the local RSNs into a competitor to ESPN. Their differing schedules made establishment of national sports content, cleared at a consistent time, impossible. Ultimately, this led to the establishment of the FS1 and FS2 networks.

Conversely, ESPN’s attempts at local coverage to complement their strong national TV presence and local radio affiliates – with dedicated sports websites for Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, Dallas, Los Angeles, and New York – met with less-than-hoped success.

When the original Disney proposal for Fox came to light, it was naturally assumed that the Fox RSNs would be combined into ESPN – although a dip back into local was something I questioned in my first post about the Disney-Fox deal. However, if nothing else, adding the RSNs may provide more value and content for the ESPN Plus SVOD service.

On the other hand, a Comcast acquisition means trying to integrate the 20 Fox RSNs with their 8. Controlling 28 of 40 RSNs could raise questions about market competition. And, with NBCSN already existing as a national sports network, there is really no need to acquire these RSNs to cobble together a pseudo-network.

The L.A. Lesson

It may be that RSNs are just too much trouble for these large national media companies. With each RSN having to negotiate with several major league teams, and numerous minor league or college teams, every few years, is it really worth the trouble? Ask Charter about Spectrum SportsNet LA, the Dodgers RSN with a huge 25-year contract, that hasn’t been able to get carriage on any other provider than those now owned by Charter. Less than half of Los Angeles has access to it.

Much will happen with the Fox deal, regardless of who wins, between an agreement and the deal being closed. As with the rest of the media industry, sports stakeholders will be watching and wondering how it will effect them. Stay tuned!

David Tice is the principal of TiceVision LLC, a media research consultancy.
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