The notion of appointment television has been slowly evaporating for several years now, but that hasn't stopped networks and cable channels from continuing to use it as the basis for scheduling their programming. But as streaming and on-demand services, as well as DVRs and the increasingly popular binge-watch continue to demonstrate how viewers want to consume television on their schedules, not those of the networks, those services may also hold the key to understanding the willingness of those same viewers to tune into existing programs when they may have already missed a season or two.
As it turns out, the availability of past seasons on streaming services like Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu, as well as most cable providers' on-demand services, plays a big part in whether or not established series are able to attract new viewers. This is true even when the series in question -- like, say, FX's The Americans -- has been lavished with praise from critics or garnered award nominations and maybe even taken home a few trophies. Because of the growing influence of over-the-top content, the desire to have every episode of every show available to audiences at their convenience is beginning to play an important role in the viewership of currently running programs.
As reported by Deadline, Alan Wurtzel, NBC's President of Research and Media Development, spoke during the TCA summer press tour about viewing habits and how it takes more than good word of mouth, critical acclaim, or awards to attract a new audience. Wurtzel said if potential new viewers don't have access to past seasons of programs that have already aired, networks like NBC shouldn’t expect them to tune in to preexisting programs either. In Wurtzel's words:
"It’s one of these things where, like, ‘Don’t waste my time on stuff that I’m really not going to like,’ and that puts a pretty big burden on us to essentially get people to kind of sample a program.
"'If I can’t see [previous] stuff before I go to the new episodes, I’m not gonna watch it'."
Wurtzel's comments speak directly to the larger issue of OTT content and how many networks, channels, and subscription-based services are leaning heavily into creating substantial libraries of content that they own as a way to attract and retain audiences who want to watch content on their schedule. But as Wurtzel explains, those libraries need to be complete if networks want their currently airing shows to see some sort of benefit.
The question now is: How will networks like NBC respond? For many, the answer is providing greater access to their shows by ensuring entire seasons make their way to the aforementioned services like Netflix and so on. As those services continue to grow their own libraries of original content, though, the notion of competition comes into play, meaning content libraries will eventually be driven into smaller platforms not unlike CBS' burgeoning CBS All Access or the already established HBO Go and Showtime Anytime. As Wurtzel said, this is how audiences want to consume content and if networks like NBC they're going to survive, they will have to make an increased effort to provide their audiences with what they want.
"That’s a big deal… Everybody in the business has to take heed… because it’s a huge issue. This is what people want. And we have to figure out a way to get it to them."