Three Ideas to Make TV More Profitable and Better

TVIt’s not often that I go around trying to tell Television networks what they should do, but recently, on an episode of the Media Man Podcast, I did just that, when I insinuated that the TV News entities should start ripping off “The Daily Show.”

Just think about it…John Oliver took the bones of “The Daily Show” to HBO, and he’s now one of the most revered men in news and comedy. Yes, it would be a very copycat move for NBC or MSNBC to do that, and I know that CNN has tried doing something similar in the past, but what’s wrong with partaking in a copycat league?

Anyway, my ideas don’t stop at ripping off Jon Stewart. I have other great ideas that aren’t my own, too. Let’s take a look at the top 3…

#1. HBO News Division
This idea isn’t my own. It actually originated from an article on Variety.com today, but much like I’m encouraging the broadcast networks to play copycat, so am I.

But did you see what I wrote?!: HBO News! The very idea of it sounds amazing to me, and not because I’m creating some grandiose, implausible vision of news in my head, but because we’re already seeing parts of it. “Real Time with Bill Maher”, “Vice News”, and “Last Week Tonight”. Those are all 3 terrific news-based shows, some with wonderful histories, the others with bright futures, and all of them on HBO.

Imagine if HBO took this all the way to the next level; sprinkling news throughout the week. It couldn’t afford/risk developing a full-on news gathering operation, but these individual silos of shows controlled by big personalities with great track records would be one of the most millennial-appealing things in television news. It would be “The Daily Show” multiplied by 10, and that sounds like nothing but greatness to me.

Of course, this doesn’t have to be relegated to HBO. Showtime, Starz, ESPN, YouTube could all do something like this. The idea is less about who is doing it, and more about the lengths with which they’re willing to go. Millennials don’t need TV for the basic facts anymore. Television news now needs to be seriously engaging, data-driven and entertaining, if you want to keep young eyeballs from just using their phones to get the day’s rundown. Jon Stewart does all of that well, and thus he is the must trusted guy in news. And while he may be a comedian, he’s still spreading news to a lot of people on a weekly basis, and that has extreme financial and social value.

#2. “SportsCircle”
Playing on the title of ESPN’s flagship show, “SportsCenter,” I’ve been trying to create a show called “SportsCircle” for the longest time. Perhaps, I’ll beat the major sports entities to it, but I’m not sure why this doesn’t exist already. I think Comedy Central tried something similar and failed, but if they did, it wasn’t similar enough.

The program I’m talking about here, is yet again, a rip-off of “The Daily Show.” Sports are probably covered in greater detail than politics in this country. Truly. There are far too many people who know who the Cincinnati Bengals are playing this week, but don’t know who’s running for Senate in their state in a few weeks. So why not make fun of the coverage around sports the same way Jon Stewart makes fun of the coverage around politics?

I honestly believe that such a show would do much better in the ratings than “The Daily Show” itself. Sure, you’d have to get the right guy in front of the camera, but with the right writers, the comedy is going to be good…there’s just so much material out there. ESPN has made “SportsCenter” an American staple by allowing its non-comedic anchors to go on TV and make amateur jokes. Upgrade to a B-list comedian, and you’ve already improved upon SportsCenter. Hell, Frank Caliendo’s visits to Bristol, CT are perhaps the biggest attraction on “SportsCenter” these days.

“The Daily Show” currently gets around 1.4 million viewers an episode at 11pm on weekdays. “SportsCenter’s” ratings are very volatile on weeknights, because the sports programming around it can giveth and taketh away. After a Monday Night Football game, SportsCenter had 3.4 million viewers last week. Up against the NFL on CBS last Thursday night, SportsCenter had a viewership of 718,000.

So imagine if a show, comedically looking at all of the day’s foolishness in sports and sports coverage, preceded Sportscenter every night? The ratings would hold much of what preceded it, and build on it even more if they could do a few episodes a week, live after a game. It would be the equivalent of the nightly news following a primetime show and preceding “The Tonight Show”…except funny. It would allow ESPN to stabilize those ratings a little more, because it would be appointment viewing, which “SportsCenter” really isn’t anymore, given that people can get their sports news from so many sources throughout the day. And this new show idea of mine would be a great way for ESPN to make fun of itself, something it has had a hard time doing as of late.

#3. Getting a way from my theme of “The Daily Show,” but sticking with sports, why doesn’t Disney put Monday Night Football back on ABC?

Of course, I sheepishly ask that question knowing many of the answers. ESPN is able to increase its carriage fees by having NFL content. This allows sister channel ABC to offer counter-programming, which presents a unique marketing advantage between the two networks. Last but not least, ESPN, being the king of sports (and my former employer), clearly is tired of being the place you go to after the game is over. They want you to be on ESPN for the game, and Monday Night Football does that for them.

Still, the audience for MNF on ABC would be bigger than it is on ESPN. Some might hypothesize that the people that are going to watch football are going to watch football wherever it is, but the numbers don’t lie. Last week, ESPN drew 13.1 million viewers for a much anticipated Monday night game. Later that week, for a game few cared about and featuring a team from a small market, CBS drew 15.8 million viewers–2 million more than ESPN. Now, the NFL is certainly a day to day season, but network TV is worth a lot when it comes to viewers. And the extra ~2 million or so viewers a night ABC could get, is just the beginning. You could increase carriage fees for ABC, while maintaining ESPN’s fees by making room for new content.

It seems as if Disney’s strategy has been to put most sports in the domain of ESPN, thus putting ABC at a disadvantage to the other broadcast networks. Thus, ABC’s ability to get additional viewership, lessen the available content for Monday Night Football to compete against, and provide lead-ins for some of its programming is being ignored in the current setup. Furthermore, ESPN, and therefore Disney, currently gets no piece of the playoffs or Super Bowl, because the NFL won’t put those games on pay-TV. Moving MNF back to broadcast might allow them to negotiate playoff participation back into their lineup.

The cost savings on an MNF move back to broadcast TV could be crazy, too. Right now, because it’s on cable, ESPN pays 4x per viewer for NFL rights. If they get their audience up, and possibly pay less for NFL rights as it moves to broadcast, they could see their programming cost per viewer go down.

Again, I recognize there are many strategic reasons to keep Monday Night Football on ESPN, but their are some financial, and perhaps strategic ones, for the move to ABC as well. I’m not one to question ESPN, but I don’t mind questioning “The Mouse House” from time to time.

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