Sunday, November 08, 2009

How ABC pissed off everyone (Ava and C.I.)

It should have been easy enough, ABC was bringing back a cult favorite from the 80s, one that had resulted in not one successful mini-series but two and a less successful TV show. That was V and it was broadcast last Tuesday.

Unlike most ABC shows, it was geared to a smaller audience. Because it's sci-fi? No, because ABC was being an ass. That's the only explanation and friends at ABC don't like it when we say that, but, again, that is the only explanation.

NBC and Fox jump-started Hulu, which streams their programs online. ABC joined up as well and, with big fanfare, their shows began joining the line up over the summer. ABC execs monitor Hulu religiously. Seeing if any of their shows made most popular for the day is their own trip to the confessional. And they've got some Hulu hits.

Which is good because the ABC player, that people use to watch ABC shows, is a pain in the ass which requires installation, works as a pop up and works only some of the time.

So Hulu was giving them an online presence.

And now they've pissed off execs at Hulu, NBC and Fox.



V, as we noted, aired Tuesday. Which means it was available at Hulu on Wednesday morning where even more . . .


It wasn't available Wednesday. Nor Thursday. Nor Friday.

And not just at Hulu but at ABC as well.

It pissed off a lot of people with Hulu, NBC and Fox because ABC appeared to be implying (via their actions) that their one show was of more 'value' than anything the other three offer. It especially ticked off Hulu because the World Series has meant that they've missed two weeks of Fox programming (Fox broadcast the World Series and pre-empted regular programming) -- shows such as American Dad, Family Guy, Fringe, The Simpsons, etc. which attract hits to the Hulu website. A show like V (or NBC's Heroes) is made for Hulu, it appeals to their core demographics. And at a time when Hulu had lost one of their biggest content providers (Fox), ABC was denying Hulu what would have been their biggest streaming program?

ABC knew they'd piss off their new bed partners but were willing to take that risk because they wanted to drive up the ratings on the (costly) new show. And they wrongly assumed the way to do that was to 'ration' V.

They appear to have been very wrong.

Some visitors (randomly selected) to ABC's website last week who stopped by to check out V were invited to take a survey. Those who did scared the hell out of ABC.

The survey explained that ABC and Hulu would offer streaming of V . . . on Saturday. The responses to 'would you watch' were blistering.

As is to be expected. First of all, no one wants to see Hulu quarantining broadcasts (the decision was ABC's) and that would kill off Hulu.

Second of all, when you want to watch something, you want to watch it. If the schedule's already in place -- and it is, even at CBS -- and says the latest episode is available for streaming the day after the broadcast, then that's the schedule. In other words, if mail's being delivered by a carrier in a car, no one's screaming for a return of the pony express.

ABC thinks the respondents will watch anyway. Well, they hope that.

But they repeatedly missed the point when the issue came up in discussions.

"Do you believe in V? Do you think it's entertaining?" We repeatedly asked that and the response was always yes. Well, if you believe that, you want a big audience. Hell, you want a big audience even if you don't believe it. But if you think the show can hook the audience, then you want as many people watching as possible to get the word out.

"So?" was the usual response.

So you have to let people see it. They're not going to be any good talking up something they haven't seen.

And where do people talk things up? At bars, at sports bars, all over the place. Largely on Fridays and Saturdays when they get together with groups of friends. Public gatherings where their conversations can be overheard by others -- increasing the word of mouth on any TV show.

"Okay, okay" one v.p. at ABC said to us, "so we missed Friday. Well we make it up on Saturday."



No, because that's not how it works and before ABC next wants to tinker with the streaming schedule, they might try learning the online world.

Ask Hulu when they get their largest numbers and, no surprise, it's during normal work hours -- nine to five, Monday through Friday.

That's not surprising and it's the same pattern that e-mail services have had this entire decade.

Why is that, do you think?

Well, especially at the start of the decade, some people just have internet access at their jobs. Now, each year, the number of homes with internet access increases (though the economic crisis may alter that pattern in the near future). But that's not always state of the art. In other words, some people with internet access never stream on the weekends because they don't have the capabilities. They wait until the start of the work week and stream at work.

At work, many people are just killing time which does allow for streaming. Also many multi-task which can also benefit streaming.

If ABC had to embargo V at all, if, they should have been smart enough to have put it up on Hulu (and on ABC's site) Friday morning. That was the last day that a huge section of people had a shot at watching anything online.

"Wait!" our v.p. insisted, "What you're saying is that since they won't be able to stream V until Monday, Tuesday night will have a huge showing!"

No, that's not what we're saying. We think the chances are good that it will have a bump because there is good word of mouth from the (smaller) audience that watched the broadcast. And some may stream it Monday (at ABC or Hulu) and be eager to see it the next night. However, what was lost was the weekend word of mouth, what was lost was the weekend chat cycle.

That can't be brought back.

And speaking of things that can't be . . .

We'll review V in 2010.

Why not before then?

This 'series'? Actually a mini-series. Which airs three more episodes and then goes off the air until March. ABC publicly claims that was always the plan and there's some truth that that was the plan early on. But what's not being publicly discussed is the big turnover in behind the scenes talent which will mean that the show returning in March will be different than what viewers check out in November.

A little different or a lot?

We're going to answer that by again stressing V needed all the word of mouth it could get -- all that it did not get due to ABC's decision to embargo the show.
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