I know, I know, the networks are still trying to figure this whole Internet thing out. Ten years were not enough. Okay, fine, I understand that paradigms don’t shift easily. Better to try to move a mountain.
But let’s talk about audiences for a moment. So that we’re all on the same page, I’m going to toss out a working definition: an audience is a group of people who consume programming. In the television world, they’re also called “viewers.” In the olden days of television, audiences were a monolithic block — figures glued to a couch staring at the box in the corner. They’d laugh when the box showed something funny; they’d cry when it showed something bad. The networks, way back when, defined our lifestyle by setting programming at specific times.
That audience doesn’t exist anymore. We have become very diverse since then. Some of us get up and turn on the television, watching news or cartoons or other morning shows. Others hit the laptop, scanning headlines and catching up on email. People work night shifts, swings shifts, go to school, sleep ’til noon. I know some who exercise. There are even a few who get up late and race through their morning routine without ever once checking in with any electronic devices beyond a coffee maker.
In the above group, you can kind of guess who the Today show sees as its audience. And you can, almost effortlessly, see that there is potential for expanding the audience. NBC, however, continues to lock into the old East Coast/West Coast model with its Today webcasts. Rather than providing on demand programming — call it a way to capture the maximum number of potential viewers — the network has decided to air the first hour (only) of Today starting at 11 a.m. Eastern time.
Why not simultaneously? Seriously, why not simultaneously with the broadcast? Why not simultaneously with the East Coast broadcast? Catch those viewers who are up early on the West Coast. Catch those viewers up early in the Mid-West. Think about it, NBC, there are people in Los Angeles who commute for long distances — they’re not catching Today before they hit the freeway. In fact, I might, as I’m driving 25 miles in just under two hours, hear about something that happened on the Today and think, “Hmm, I’m going to go to NBC.com and watch that for myself.”
I think it’s interesting that NBC’s stated goal is to catch the maximum number of viewers with broadband connections: essentially, office employees. It’s also interesting that NBC presumes lunch hours will be devoted to Today rather than the myriad of other tasks that consume our daily lives.
It’s also interesting that NBC is choosing to air only the first hour? Is that the best hour? Is that the best hour for the London production staff (who might be ending their work days just as the West Coast gets its first dose of Today)?
I know it’s hard to change, but step one for all the networks must be flexibility. Then comes creativity. Or maybe it’s the other way around. At the end of the day, your most important business partner is the audience.