Cable Envy at TCA? Broadcast Chiefs Long for Old Days

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As the Television Critics Assn tour wraps up this week, we’re reminded that the modern TV business is a complicated, albeit beautiful, mess—especially when it comes to the competition for increasingly fractured audiences. CTAM ’s cable days that kicked off the tour were soon followed by ex-cable guy and NBCU Ent chmn Bob Greenblatt, who tore off an old scab in the ongoing debate over how broadcast nets can compete for viewers and critical acclaim with cable nets not saddled by a need to be so, well… broad. “There’s so many great shows on so many networks now, and cable has the advantage of doing material that’s darker, more interesting,” he said. “On some levels you can go into subject matter that feels cooler than some of the stuff that we can do. It’s just a fact of life.” Asked why cable seems to be cleaning up at the Emmys, he joked, “let’s bring back the CableACE Awards. How about that?” Of course, he noted that NBC isn’t afraid to take on cable on its own turf, noting that “Hannibal” would be considered a big hit on cable. “The minute you try to do something that is dark and subversive and frightening and gets into that territory, you start to peel away the mass audience,” he said. “It’s just the way it is—because the quality of that show is undeniable.” CBS Ent chmn Nina Tassler told critics of her frustration that the 22-ep “The Good Wife” got no Emmy love this year, while many cable dramas with 13 or fewer eps garnered noms. “You look at our primetime production schedule,” she said. “They are so much more demanding. They are so much more difficult.” She seconded Greenblatt’s nostalgia for separate cable awards. “I want to be the first person at the head of the line to bring them back,” she joked. Of course, not everyone’s gloomy about the supposed cable advantage. ABC Ent Group pres Paul Lee said broadcast content limitations or the need to reach broad audiences shouldn’t affect nets’ ability to gain mass audiences or critical acclaim. “I think there’s strength and skill on all the different platforms, and I would put ‘American Crime’ or ‘Fresh Off the Boat’ or any of our shows this year up against cable shows… Sometimes limitations can actually provide you with better storytelling. [‘Scandal’ showrunner] Shonda Rhimes is an absolute beacon of that particular thought.” Meanwhile, as live+same day ratings continue to equalize between cable and broadcast, both sides throughout press tour urged TV journalists to focus on Live+3 or Live+7 ratings to better reflect TV content’s increasingly long tail. “It’s a very messy transition” to time-shifted measurement, admitted Fox Networks CEO Peter Rice, arguing that panel-based and live-centric ratings worked well when there were fewer TV networks, but “when there are infinite choices for the consumer, it’s impossible for that to be accurate.” FX Networks, which has been on the vanguard of coaxing critics away from live+same day for at least the last couple years, even put together a research panel over the weekend with gurus from FX, Fox, CBS and Showtime. They all presented data suggesting that viewership can more than double once time-shifted viewing through DVRs, VOD and digital gets factored in. “The incompleteness of next day data does a disservice to our networks, the artists who make our shows, our affiliates and advertisers, and the viewing public at large,” said Julie Piepenkotter, evp, research at FX Networks. During his exec session, Rice noted that Fox’s VOD numbers this summer are 30% higher than last summer. “That’s a huge number,” he said, predicting “an ability for us to discover a much more precise measurement system in the years ahead.” As for those CableACE awards coming back? Don’t hold your breath…

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