CBS’s long-running hit “Survivor” posted its worst fall première ratings ever last Thursday, barely beating a rerun of CSI for the top spot of the night. According to Wayne Friedman at MediaDailyNews, the show had a “4.9 rating among 18–49 viewers, almost a rating point and half less than the show did with a 6.3 a year ago; and nearly a full rating point off its 5.8 rating of this past spring’s première edition.”
This surprised me, not because of the numbers, but because I wasn’t aware that Survivor was debuting last week, and I think this, more than anything else, states the ultimately conundrum for those who live in the mass marketing world. For those who use the mass need the mass to promote their wares, and what happens when the mass breaks apart?
The networks are running spots for their shows on other channels and in other places, but those spots cost money — real or otherwise — and that eliminates the competitive advantage of owning your own television network. The only time I watch network television anymore is sports, and I flip to other sports programming during commercial breaks. Hence, I’m not exposed to their promos, and I don’t think I’m alone.
Folks, this is serious stuff, and it just can’t go on much longer. In Friedman’s report, he notes that with ratings plummeting, CPM ad rates are skyrocketing. Ad inventory is tight, because the nets have to run make-goods based on up-front obligations. It’s not a pretty scene.
Mass marketing needs mass, and when that disappears, there’s no amount of multi-platform distribution that will make up the difference. We are in a new world, and television is trapped in that awful spot of trying to reinvent itself while continuing to milk the mass market cow for as long as they can.