Monday, February 22, 2010

FLASHBACK: The Reselling of Daytime Television 1989

The Reselling of Daytime Television `It Isn't All Soap, Hamburger Helper. The Profile of the Advertiser Is Changing, the Profile of the Audience Is Changing.'

By Diane Haitman
Los Angeles Times
August 31, 1989

For the last few years, while the Big Three networks wrung their corporate hands over the dwindling prime-time audience, they seemed blissfully unaware that daytime TV-that predictable, comfortable blend of game shows, talk shows and soap operas on the air between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m.-was losing ground even faster.

Compared with prime time, daytime's audience has shrunk less rapidly-dropping only 6% to prime-time's 9% since 1984.

But daytime has been getting hit where it hurts-in the network pocketbook.

In prime time, the networks grumble merely that advertising revenues aren't climbing at the rate they used to. In daytime, however, the networks' combined yearly advertising revenues have plummeted from $1.5 billion to $1.3 billion since 1984.

Although the networks haven't concocted any solutions yet, they've at least begun admitting that when $200 million is missing, it's time to figure out where it went.

"The reselling of this part of the day is going on at all the networks," said Michael Brockman, ABC's president of daytime, children's and late-night entertainment. "The networks are beginning to realize that they have sort of taken for granted this `daypart,' and it has become imperative for us to bring to focus . . . that this is still a very vital and alive and powerful part of the day."

Lucy Johnson, CBS' vice president of daytime programs, described the networks' current state of concern over daytime as being "not in a panic, but not complacent either."

That's evident in the recent game of musical chairs in the networks' executive suites.

The latest plot twists in "As the Daytime Executives Turn": Johnson, who served as NBC's vice president of daytime and children's television from 1978-81, was hired at CBS last spring, returning to daytime television following a stint as a studio executive at Lorimar and several years in independent production. She accepted the position at CBS, she said, because she was eager to work once more with Brockman, who was then CBS' vice president of daytime, children's and late night programming.

Just before Johnson got to CBS, however, Brockman left. In April, ABC split its entertainment division in two and named Brockman to the newly created position of president of daytime, children's and late-night entertainment.

Meanwhile, at NBC, Brian Frons, who was vice president of daytime programs, was promoted to vice president of creative affairs in May. To fill his position, the network brought in Jackie Smith, who was president of daytime programs for ABC from 1977 to 1978.

Brockman's move to ABC is particularly significant. Under ABC's new structure, Brockman is independent of ABC Entertainment and, like the presidents of other divisions such as ABC News and ABC Sports, now reports directly to John B. Sias, president of the ABC Television Network Group. Before, daytime fell under the aegis of the entertainment department, rather than getting its own division and its own president. "The awareness on the part of the networks that they're sort of going to have to get their act together and figure out ways to revitalize the area, in some ways and in varying degrees, is reflected in these changes," Brockman said.

TV executives wistfully recall that daytime was once a great "daypart," as the networks refer to the various portions of their broadcast schedule. Compared to prime-time series and movies, daytime soap operas were cheap to produce; game shows and talk shows were even cheaper. Although industry experts disagree on whether daytime used to make more money for the networks than prime time, the lower production costs insured that their profit margins were higher. The audience the advertisers craved, women aged 18 to 49, were home, they were watching-and they were buying.

Then things changed. More and more women got jobs, and daytime ratings began to decline. More importantly, worried advertisers began to divert a greater percentage of their money to prime-time TV, rather than daytime TV. Along with the same threats facing prime time-more competition from independent stations, cable TV and videocassettes-local stations are buying more syndicated game shows and talk shows now than ever, leading them to pre-empt many network daytime shows.

Arnold Becker, vice president of television research at CBS, said that even though daytime ratings have not dropped sharply, advertisers fear that the women who are still at home watching daytime TV aren't the young, affluent ones they're after.

"Advertisers are saying: `Ratings or no ratings, how can I believe that there aren't a lot less women watching? And if I do believe the ratings, who could these women be?' " Becker said. "(Advertisers believe) these are probably economically undesirable women, if you will-somewhat older, they are likely to be somewhat poorer, and maybe these are not the leading-edge women that they want to get.

"Whether that's true or not, those kinds of perceptions do influence the people who buy advertising," Becker continued. "Especially since, when I go into the advertising agencies these days, the people who are making the decisions don't look like they're old enough to be working full-time."

Equally painful for the networks has been an innovation introduced in 1983: the 15-second advertisement.

Diane Seaman, NBC's vice president of daytime advertising sales, said the networks switched from 30-second commercials to 15-second commercials in every daypart except the Saturday morning children's block because they believed shorter spots would attract smaller advertisers who couldn't afford 30 seconds, and would provide another option for the regular pool of advertisers as well. The tactic may have attracted smaller companies, but it also led advertisers to discover something else: that, according to research studies, one 15-second spot was 80% as effective as a 30-second spot, for only half the price.

Frugal advertisers did not buy twice the number of daytime commercials, however. They began buying more prime-time spots with the money they saved in daytime. And because there are fewer major advertisers that buy daytime spots, the demand-and the price-for the available advertising time dropped. Seaman said the networks experienced the same financial hardship when they switched from 60- to 30-second spots years ago, but they eventually recovered and hope the same thing will happen again.

"We knew there was going to be some dislocation, that it would be rough going for a few years," she said. Although most plans to revitalize daytime are still in the talking stage, the networks have taken a few tentative steps to make their daytime lineups both more attractive and more profitable.

NBC, currently in last place in the daytime ratings, introduced a new daytime serial, GENERATIONS, in March. Besides the attraction of a new soap to viewers, said NBC's Frons, the network hoped to bring more advertising dollars back to daytime: although some daytime executives scoff at the idea, NBC believes that soaps are draw a more affluent audience than game shows, and thus can command higher advertising rates.

ABC, meanwhile, expanded its HOME show from 30 to 60 minutes a day earlier this year. Although the 19-month-old, do-it-yourself home-improvement show, which Rob Weller hosts, does not represent a new daytime concept, it was the first such show to come along in years and provided at least some relief from the steady diet of games and soaps.

Neither GENERATIONS, the story of two affluent Chicago families, one black and one white, or HOME have been ratings successes, however; HOME currently ranks 18th and GENERATIONS 20th out of 21 programs.

Still, ABC's Brockman argues that THE HOME SHOW remains attractive to advertisers because of its young, affluent audience.

In October, NBC plans to introduce ON-LINE, two daily, 30-second "vignettes" providing information on car care, life insurance, health and other such topics. Each spot would be sponsored by a company in that business. After the spot, the viewer would be provided with a 900 number to get more information from the sponsor on the subject. The call will cost between 50 cents and $2. All three network daytime chiefs point out that daytime TV has never thrived on innovation, however. While putting on a new show or changing the time slot of a failing one can sometimes rescue a prime-time series, moving or canceling a 15-year-old soap opera or favorite game show can spell disaster in daytime. "It's a life-style viewing pattern, rather than: `Honey, what's on tonight?' " CBS' Johnson explained. Johnson added that, while families often watch prime-time shows together, daytime viewers usually watch alone, allowing them to become more attached and involved than they might with a night-time series viewed as the result of a family consensus. The fact that the show airs five times per week, rather than just one, strengthens the habit.

So instead of racing to change their schedules, the networks instead hope to infuse new money into daytime by persuading advertisers that, although it may not be reflected in the Nielsen ratings, working women still find time for daytime TV.

To this end, ABC recently released two studies contending that the Nielsen ratings, which only measure viewing done in the home, fail to account for nearly three million women who watch soap operas while at work, on communal TV sets in college dorms, in lunch rooms, hospitals and on portable televisions almost anywhere. And all three networks are reminding advertisers that many working women now tape their favorite daytime shows and watch them in the evening.

And, said Johnson, advertisers need to know that women who work are also women with money. Hyundai recently became the first auto manufacturer to buy a spot on a soap opera, and others have followed. "It isn't all soap and Hamburger Helper anymore," she said.

"The profile of the advertiser is changing, the profile of the audience is changing. It's all in transition now."

1 comment:

  1. This article is really interesting. Thanks for posting it!

    Like the writers, producers, (and actors), the executives seem to consist of a small group of names who go from show to show/network to network... maybe all of that 'incest' makes it hard to stay relevant and innovative.