Let’s see what develops

It’s development time in the network television world. That’s when we look at all the shows that are contenders for the fall schedule. Network TV is still the biggest dog in the media pack, and people are watching more TV than ever. To that end, there are many more choices.

So, how are they selected? Let me take you through the process at CBS (and it’s essentially the same for all the big networks).

We have very talented programmers and development executives whose jobs are to work with writers, creators, and producers to look for material that would work on our network. Past successes can breed new ones (the CSI franchise, for example), or a hot producer or writer with a track record can present a new idea that fits. What is “fit?” It’s a balance of what we need, such as a 10 p.m. drama or an 8 p.m. comedy, and also what would work with our broad audience target.

Last year, our programmers developed a show called “The Mentalist,” whose lead actor, the appealing Simon Baker, was on the verge of major stardom. It came from Bruno Heller, the writer/executive producer of the HBO series “Rome.” It was scheduled last fall against Fox’s quirky show, “Fringe,” which also has a great pedigree from “Lost” creator J.J. Abrams. “The Mentalist’s” audience target was right down the middle; it had great mainstream appeal to men and women of all ages. It was interesting, engaging, and clever. It became the industry’s only bona fide hit of this season, and the No. 1 new show on all of network television!

Think of the TV development process like a giant funnel. Lots of ideas pour in and get discussed, and we hone down the list and buy scripts from those with the most promise. Then the very best scripts are given the go-ahead to make a pilot. That pilot gets cast, and ultimately produced, edited, and delivered to the network around this time of year.

Then we test every pilot at our state-of-the-art audience-testing facility in Las Vegas. That’s where we get the best sampling of America’s TV viewers who come pouring through Television City at the MGM Grand hotel.

I’ll do a separate posting on TV marketing research, but suffice it to say, it’s very cool. This is the place where America gets its say. The show may seem great to us, but what does America think? Caveat: research is a tool, not a rule; it’s another piece of ammo used in our arsenal of decision making.

So, after that, our programmers and senior executives look at the pilots and we discuss the shows’ strengths against our needs–how many hours we need to fill, what kind of shows work best, and what pieces fit well into the schedule puzzle. Plus, we discuss how well a show can be marketed to the viewing public, and what the competition is doing. Then we create a new fall schedule. On May 20, we will announce that schedule to the press and advertisers in a giant presentation at Carnegie Hall called the “Upfront.” Why? Because most network TV ad time is sold up front, before the season, during early summer.

Let the games begin! You may not hear from me for a couple of weeks as we sort all this out, so stay tuned. I will try my best.

(Note: In the meantime, you can follow the fall development news and the industry Upfront reports on a great blog by a guy who really gets it, TVMoJoe by TV Week’s Joe Adalian.)

TV marketing: Navigating the seven c’s

For many years in the television marketing world the mantra about the future has been the three c’s: choice, convenience, and control. Marketers believed consumers wanted more media choices, more convenience of viewing (remotes, VCR, DVR), and more control over their viewing.

Today, technology enables the balance of power to shift from the media provider to the consumer. It’s now a world of infinite media choice, total convenience for consumers to view whatever they want whenever they want, and control so that no longer do they have to be in front of their TVs at 8 p.m. to see “Survivor” or they’ll never see the episode again. Well, that’s a big shift!

So where are the three c’s now?

Choice. There may now be too many choices. After all, the more choices viewers have, the harder it is to decide. Navigation is key. (Look for my exciting navigation blog post coming soon! That’s a promo.)

Convenience. Yes, TV viewing has become very convenient, but as simple as it is, to most consumers it’s not simple enough.

Control. The consumer has complete control of the viewing experience, but even still, most viewing today is of live TV.

To those traditional three c’s I have added four more c’s (and if they were “c’s-ons” I would be looking for the Frankie Valli connection here. Bear with me. I’m the marketing guy).

First is content. Above all, that is what everything revolves around. People don’t watch technology. They watch content.

Then there’s connectivity, and with connectivity comes convergence. They go hand in hand. People say they want multiplatform; they don’t even know what that means, but bring it on. People are platform agnostic…or multifaith. They don’t care about the delivery system. After all, people who get network TV over cable think CBS is cable because they get it on cable. It’s transparent; they just want it quick, easy, and now!

Last, there is context. It’s about how people live their lives and how they really watch and use media now. It’s not all about the cool stuff we see here on CNET and Crave and at tech trade shows and in industry e-mails. That’s for another day.</>

Confusing? (The eighth “C”?) You bet, and that probably means career security for media marketers. Stay tuned!

Fighting for ‘share of thumb’

gs_cropped_remote_(2)_270x208For marketers of television programming, after the TV itself, what’s the next most important home entertainment device? The remote control. Every day and night we literally fight for the viewers’ “share of thumb!” Think about it.

The remote control device has gone through many changes. My first remote control was my younger brother, Peter. “Louder, please!” I would command, and Peter would get up and adjust the volume. Same for channel up and down. One could say it was actually voice-activated.

Today, Peter has his own remote. From a simple up, down, left, right, and select, one can operate cable, satellite, DVR, guides, and so on. The remote has put viewers in the driver’s seat: they can scan, surf, and select as fast as they can press the button. Simple as that sounds, it’s still not simple enough. Many cable companies report they still get the majority of their customer service calls on how to operate the remotes. That’s a problem.

At a recent TV of Tomorrow conference, a panel of program guide designers waxed on about a terrific new remote with a keyboard and some other bells and whistles. One exec from a large cable company said he didn’t think today’s remote is simple enough. At a conference like this or on a site like CNET, it’s often populated by early adopters, engineers and designers, but in the real world, people want it easy and simple. And ultimately, that’s what the marketers of programming want, too. We want it to be an easy find. We don’t want people to give up the search.

Easy navigation is the key. As technology brings us more and more choices, it also has created a game of “high-tech hide and seek” between an ever-growing amount of programming and a navigation-challenged viewing public. So we look at all the ways people navigate and what they do when they turn on their sets. We work back from that behavior and try to see what triggers their media decision-making. Look for those elements in an upcoming column. Until then: keep your thumb on CNET TV and CBS.