The evolving world of television

Like most people, I suppose, my television viewing habits are eclectic, brewed in the chaotic vat of channel surfing. I have my favorites, but I’ll watch anything, if it grabs my attention. If anything could be described as regular fare for me, it would be reruns of network dramas, especially crime dramas. They’re everywhere. I also love “House,” and USA has decided that hour upon hour of the medical drama will satisfy viewers, for a few months anyway.

And so this headline in Broadcasting & Cable caught my attention:

Scripted Series Scarce on Nielsen’s 2008 Top Tens
Reality, sports dominate TV lists in Nielsen’s year-end rankings

Only three of the top ten regularly scheduled shows this year were scripted series, CSI, NCIS and The Mentalist. What’s cable going to do for reruns in the future? But wait! Seven of the top ten time-shifted programs are scripted series, and what is a rerun, if not a “time-shifted” TV show?

But there’s a real kick-in-the-teeth in the numbers.

The results also suggest an age factor, as the top three time-shifted programs—NBC’s Heroes, Fox’s Fringe and ABC’s Lost—are aimed squarely at the 18–49 demo. Meanwhile, audiences for the top scripted shows on the regularly-scheduled program list all have median ages above 50—54 for CSI, 56 for The Mentalist and 58 for NCIS.

You see, local news programs are never going to be high on anybody’s time-shifted list, so the age issue is a serious problem for local broadcast companies, who make much of their money from news programming. It’s the candle burning at both ends (see: The Demographic Candle). The more scripted producers target younger people, the fewer viewers there will be for anything delivered in “real time,” and the more scripted producers target an older audience, the quicker that universe shrinks, despite the higher ratings. People do die, you know.

The Demographic Candle

In its heyday, broadcasting produced a kind of “community” that current and future generations will never know. I’m always drawn to the mini-series Roots and how that programming brought people together. But the people of tomorrow will know another kind of “community,” one that doesn’t require a single, powerful message to momentarily unite. In a truly networked world, unity is possible beyond rallying cries.

I certainly hope so.

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