Broadcast TV Viewers, You're Not The Customer, You're The Product Being Sold

Categories: 1-Featured,Broadcast TV,TV Business

Written By

September 18th, 2012

The laments from commenters that broadcast television networks "need to listen to their customers" typically betray a fundamental misunderstanding of the relationship between broadcast TV viewers and broadcast TV networks.

Viewers are not the broadcast networks' customers, they're the networks' product.

How do the customers and products stack up in TV land?

Broadcast TV Networks:

  • Customers: Traditionally advertisers. In recent years, broadcast networks have begun negotiating carriage fees from cable, satellite and telephone providers, so those companies can also be said to be customers.
  • Product: Viewers (adults 18-49 in primetime) to advertisers. Programming feed to providers.

Ad Supported Cable Networks:

  • Customers: Same customers as the broadcast TV networks, but currently reversed in importance. Carriage fees are more important to most (all?) ad supported cable networks than is advertising revenue.
  • Product: Viewers (various age/gender demo groups) to advertisers. Programming feed to providers.

Premium Cable Networks: (HBO, Showtime, etc)

  • Customers: Primarily subscribers, but carriage providers as well, who act as the "retailers" of their product.
  • Product: Programming.

TV Studios:

  • Customers: Broadcast and cable networks, both for first run and syndication. DVD buyers. Online streaming companies (Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, etc).
  • Product: TV programs.
  • JohnM

    Let the irrational ranting and raving and complete misunderstanding of how the world really works commence

  • Heradite

    The good thing about being a product is you get to chose which company you support.

  • JohnM

    I never considered myself either – I don’t have a nielsen box – I don’t have influence on the shows I enjoy at all – as a geek from longer before all you wannabes showed up I’m used to shows I love being cancelled – the only new thing is that now people have a forum to complain. I can go back to Sports Night, or Brooklyn Bridge, My So Called Life, Misfits of Science, the outsiders, nowhere man, and on and on and on – shows i adored that were cancelled cause people didn’t watch them.

    Only difference these days is more freely aavailable information and more ability for the overly obsessed to complain and cry conspiracy and think they matter when they truly don’t. LIVES

  • Observer

    Is there a way to make this into a bingo excuse?

  • Bill Gorman

    “Is there a way to make this into a bingo excuse?”

    We’ve got “The network doesn’t listen to its fans” already, but what would you suggest?

  • iggy

    If you want good shows, you have to pay for them.

  • MM

    Eh, not alawys. Cable scripted shows have problems anyway. Most of the good ones are actually broadcast. Except ‘Falling Skies’. I just wish cable makers didn’t see it as an excuse for “how much nudity,violence and sex can we put in?” Cable choice still could be a good thing. Let people just pay for what they watch, not what they never touch. I’ve got plenty of channels I’d drop due to never watching them.

  • Observer

    I couldn’t quite come up with a way to twist it into an excuse, but was hoping someone with more creativity than me could find a way. It just seems like it should be one since it is such a huge point of misunderstanding. Somehow.

  • JohnM

    BINGO Excuse

    Chose the wrong advertisers to draw in more product?

  • JohnM

    The CFO of my company has a long and storied history in the entertainment industry on the tv AND movie side.

    He believes that tv will evolve into an ala carte type model – people will pay for ONLY what they want and nothing else.

    At that point of course – the entire TV business model would change.

  • Dan S

    It was made painfully clear that the number of viewers doesn’t matter after Harry’s Law got canned after only 2 seasons. It still puzzles me how advertisers can’t figure out a way to market there wares to old farts like me over 50. I’ve also heard it said that we’re moving closer to a day that programs will be ala carte but until then we’re at the mercy of advertisers catering to those under 50

  • The End

    Most networks do listen to fans, when it’s financially viable. People will eventually get what they want if they are willing to wait, wanting something now when its not viable simply won’t happen.

  • Robert Seidman

    @Dan S, it’s a mistake to confuse “haven’t figured out how to market to us old farts” with “not willing to pay for us old farts in primetime.”

  • Ultima

    @Dan S
    It still puzzles me how advertisers can’t figure out a way to market there wares to old farts like me over 50.

    The clueless are often puzzled.

    Advertisers know exactly how to market to the 50+ crowd… FOR FREE!

    It’s the networks that can’t figure out how to make advertisers pay for those viewers…

  • JohnM

    @Robert Seidman

    The whole ‘not willing to pay’ for old farts in primetime I believe will change as the boomers (you bastards, stop living forever) age, they’ve got money and there’s tons of em – i was shocked to see Mrs Harry Hamlin in the adult diaper commercial just a few months ago – the advertising landscape does seem to be changing a bit – as the boomers age – but I’m not sure how fast the networks (and the advertisers) will adjust to it – if this economy continues – the folks with disposable income are going to be the ones who had it before the downturn started…

  • JohnM


    It’s not that they don’t know how to market to old farts so much, as, well, you’re old farts, old farts tend to be much more set in their ways, not prone to ‘impulse’ buys, not prone to changing models or tastes, you like what you like and you know what you like and you’re going to buy what you like.

    Why should advertisers pursue you when all information indicates that
    A. They have you already or
    B. They can’t get you to change your mind

  • Robert Seidman

    @JohnM: somewhere some folks at CBS are saying “from your lips to God’s ears!”

    We’ve been hearing similar things for the five years we’ve been running the site. But it seems in the aggregate the scarcity of younger viewers drives primetime advertising pricing more than anything and I don’t see that changing anytime soon. We’ll see!

  • NCJeff

    Bingo Excuse:

    The competing show wouldn’t be as popular if viewers had to pay to watch it.

  • Gregg

    I wonder if I’ll get a birthday card from the National Association of Advertisers when I turn 50 in 5 months.

    “Happy Birthday, Gregg! Thank you for your loyal support of the programs we’ve sponsored over the decades. Now, Drop Dead!”

  • cas127

    Kudos on making the point about “being sold’ – it can’t be said enough.

    On the *other hand*, stirring up the 18-49, 50+ “wars” just seems counter productive (it probably is more the commenters’ fault).

    The topic has been hashed to death and *still* mistaken perceptions exist.

    For instance – while the 18-49 ratings determine what stays on the air for broadcast, *it is not true* that the 50+ viewers go unsold – they may be cheaper, but they ain’t free – unless you think a bunch of spectrum grabbing oligopolists just became charities.

    It *would* be interesting/new/a change to see how CPM rates differ between 18-49 and 50+…

    It would *also* be interesting/new/a change to have a discussion about why *free* digital broadcast subchannels have been slow to catch on even as basic cable rates take an unhealthy chunk out of household budgets (even as household income falls year after year)…

    Those are interesting discussions because they are *new*…

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