Breaking Good

Originally posted in RAIN News

“What is truly telling from this year’s list of nominees is the rapidly expanding definition of ‘television’. Quality television is now platform agnostic. We’re watching broadcast networks, basic cable, premium cable, and on-demand Internet services. And we’re watching on flat screens in the home, tablets, and mobile devices. The great news is that there are more Emmy-worthy series, movies, and mini-series being produced by our industry than ever before.”
Presentation of Emmy nominees

With those words, the presenter went on to introduce this year’s Emmy nominations, the best-of-the-best in television.

In my experience, the TV game is an elbows-out kind of business. It generally embraces the ethos of McDonalds’ founder Ray Kroc, who said of his competitors, “If they were drowning I’d stick a hose in their mouth.” But on Emmy nomination announcement day, everyone in the industry, competitors all, lowered their shields like they never do in Game of Thrones and celebrated their common pursuit, not their individual differences.

Kumbaya.

Aiding the detente is the fact that by most accounts this is a “Golden Age” of television. Shows arguably have more bite, more star-power, and more depth than ever before. Quality is through the roof.

Quantity, on the other hand…

 

Audience size

The one thing most shows have less of is audience. Lots less in some cases.

My favorite show of the nineties, Seinfeld, captured over 38-million viewers at its peak. In the 2000s, The Sopranos was my jam. But tucked behind the HBO subscription wall, it only pulled in around 18.2-million viewers. This year’s presumed favorite for “Best Show”, Game of Thrones, does a robust 18.4-million despite the subscription gate.

To make a small, symbolic statement about quantity not always equating to quality, Who’s the Boss? pulled in over 20-million viewers during Tony Danza’s majestic run.

So from three networks to four, followed by movie cable channels getting into “TV shows,” we saw the individual slices of the pie shk — rineven if the pie itself grew, which it almost surely did. It’s a bit tricky to say, however, because while network, cable, streaming, ad-supported, subscription, etc. are all “television” to viewers (even to cord-cutters who don’t own a television), there are different measurement standards at work and rampant time-shifting creating something like a running meter of audience.

Adding to an already crowded field, cable channels have recently become content creators, not just distributors. Breaking Bad averaged 5.4-million in its final season on AMC. Niche favorites like FX’s Louie average just under 800-thousand die-hard viewers per episode, of whom I am one. Even a web-only show like Netflix’s House of Cards does 13.4-million on average.

 

Quality

How do shows keep quality so high in the face of shrinking per-episode viewership? They give the people what they want. You can watch most of these shows on most devices (tablets, computers, mobile…) most any time you want. From the outside looking in, it seems television has had a collective realization that the competition is stiff. Viewers have lots of options, and a restriction or barrier of any kind could be that little tie-breaker that pushes a valuable viewer (from either a subscription or ad-supported perspective) to choose an old episode of “The Wire” over a new episode of “24”, a second-helping of “True Blood” instead of jumping on the “True Detective” bandwagon.

 

Radio of all kinds

I think when Radio reflects on where it is in the collective, it’s easy to conclude it’s in a great place defined broadly. According to Edison Research, Nielsen, eMarketer and a host of other sources, people are listening to an awful lot of podcasts, satellite, streaming, and terrestrial radio on a host of devices and myriad occasions. Under a microscope, certain content may not have the audience it did even a year ago as competition stiffly ramps. But with a telescope, the constellation Audio burns as brightly as ever. Actually, more so.
For that everyone should be justifiably proud.


Maybe we should have an evening to celebrate it? Perhaps something 6a-10a would be more appropriate.