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.