Ask media buyers if they believe broadcast TV has irredeemably slipped into senescence, and you’ll get an earful.
“Sure, no one’s watching the ads, and everyone has dumped network TV for cable because that’s where all the great shows are,” says one national TV buyer with more than a little attendant sarcasm. “Every week 15 million people watch Charlie Sheen do his Charlie Sheen thing, on a show that’s been on the air seven, eight years. The biggest show on cable draws maybe half that.”
Fair enough, but there’s no denying that broadcast and cable ratings have been passing each other heading in opposite directions for a decade, and it’s only a matter of time before a TNT or USA Network chalks up eight-figure deliveries.
As such, cable nets are beginning to counter-program in the fall, a strategy that was once tantamount to ratings suicide. “For years, the thinking was, ‘We can’t go up against these guys in September,’” says one cable network exec. “The feeling now is there’s nothing to be afraid of anymore.”
(Download a progress report here detailing where the broadcast ratings stand and how much advertisers are paying for spots in each show.)