Netflix and DVR are preventing series from being cancelled

In the new, robust world of media-on-demand all the time, TV networks are facing an unexpected conundrum: if a new show fails to pull in ratings after its first season, what should the network play instead?  In the “olden days,” when cable was the only way to watch your favorite shows, the answer was simple: cancel the show and fill its time slot with re-runs.  But with 24-hour access to nearly every show on nearly every network available online, this strategy is no longer working.

Instead, networks have adopted a new strategy: renew the current show for fewer episodes (than the normal 13) and/or for a lower budget.  If they replace the show with something brand new, they start back at square one. Additionally, once an audience gets wind that a show has officially been cancelled, interest in it all but evaporates. People wipe it from their DVRs, even removing unwatched episodes in their queue.  A lack of viable backup programming options leads to a scenario where leaving even the worst-rated new shows on the air is the best option for everyone involved.

Interestingly, this new strategy seems to be working.  Some of the shows that were rating 0.6 or 0.7 in the 18-49 demographic are seeing increases in rating, such as The Player going from 0.7 to 1.3 during its second season.  AMC is using a similar strategy by renewing “Halt & Catch Fire” for a third ten-episode season, even though its viewership has remained and consistently low levels for its first two seasons.

What this means for new media is that focusing on the long-term content — the story — is becoming more important than ever to keep a viewer engaged.  And when viewers have a nearly unlimited number of content options, the most engaging content will rise to the top.

Ford’s “Fiesta Movement” Campaign

Ford's "Fiesta Movement" CampaignA year before the U.S. launch of the Ford Fiesta, Ford imported 100 Fiestas from Europe and gave them to 100 online influencers (dubbed “agents”) for six months, provided that they post an update about their experience with the car at least once per month.

The 100 influencers were chosen based on their blogging experience, social network, and a video they submitted about their desire for adventure.  Ford selected the 100 participants from a pool of 4,000 publicly-available submission videos – which had been viewed a total of 640,000 times before the hundred winners were announced – by creating a “social vibrancy” rating based on how much they were followed online and across how many platforms, and an overall grade based on those factors plus creativity, video skills, and their ability to hook a viewer within the first 5-10 seconds.

After six months, the campaign had millions of YouTube and Twitter impressions, over 500,000 Flickr views, and 50,000 potential customers, 97% of whom didn’t already own a Ford.

The buzz from the “Fiesta Movement” campaign was so successful that Ford used many of the same techniques for its Ford Focus launch.  Total spend on the campaign was about 1/10th of what they would have spent on a traditional advertising campaign to reach the same audience.

Some examples of videos by the agents that were chosen for the campaign:

Fiesta vs. Lamborghini:

The Changing Media Landscape

The largest changes in marketing spend over the past five years have been reallocating advertising budget from traditional media to new media outlets and shifting focus from transaction-based marketing to building product/service reputation.

In 2010, during an interview with Jim Farley (Ford’s VP of Global Marketing) in Marketing Week, he explained how these changes had already began taking shape after the success of the Ford “Fiesta Movement” campaign: “Three years ago, digital would mean being on a buying site where you compare competitor prices and used values. Today, digital presence is more about favorable opinion… We’ve changed our digital spend from transactional marketing to building the reputation of the products. We’re taking resources away from TV, or even variable marketing incentives, to fund earned media.”

In predicting the integration of PR functions into overall marketing campaigns, he said: “The biggest trend over the next five years is in public relations; it will move from a concierge, introductory business to the most important promotional aspect of a company’s business. PR’s function holds the keys to authentic media, content that people really trust.”