Here’s the wow-quote of the day, from Jeff Gaspin, the head of entertainment at NBC, explaining to The New York Times, with remarkable clarity and certainty, that watching TV shows on-demand is more satisfying than watching them live.
“The commercials broke the tension … I hate to say this to the AMC executives and everybody else in the business, but I will never watch ‘Walking Dead’ live again.”
Is that a gaffe? A truism? Either way, it’s right. Fewer people are watching the networks live because viewers have found better television and/or better ways to watch it. Live ratings have declined for 14 straight quarters across the networks. Meanwhile, NBC is getting regularly smacked around by ABC, CBS, and Fox. It’s barely outperformed Univision when you take out sports, according to TV by the Numbers.
But the latest news — that the networks are facing the mother of all spring swoons — is a short-term acceleration of a long-term trend. The networks’ share of primetime TV audience (dark blue in the graph below) has declined from 45% in 1985 to 25% in 2009. Basic cable ate the networks’
lunchpost-dinner audience, and now it’s technology’s turn gobble up what’s left.
Even with this long trend line (and despite the fact that viewers often unplug in the spring), there is a sense that we’ve reached a tipping point thanks to what Gaspin calls “built-up libraries.” There is more good stuff to watch not-on-live-TV than on live-TV, and even the head of entertainment at NBC knows it.
A report from Reuters that Netflix is in talks with an unnamed cable company has us worried. The information comes from unnamed sources and only mentions a quiet discussion of adding the streaming service to cable, but if it all pans out, Netflix will become ”available as another on-demand option for cable subscribers through their set-top boxes … as an additional option added onto a subscriber’s cable bill,” sources told Reuters’ Yinka Adegoke and Lisa Richwine. Translation: The streaming service “of the future” would join forces with the established companies we’d hope it would help us get away from.