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6 Ways Network TV Can Rebound vs. Streaming Networks

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One thing that’s obvious in this age of streaming networks is that network TV is dying a slow death, as the streaming giants like Netflix and Amazon Prime are starting to pull away more great shows, built on the foundation of great writers and great actors.

But life is better if network TV is good, considering it’s free, available in HD (still free) over the air, and it’s what we all grew up with.

So I decided to put my brainiac hat on and come up with a handful of ways that network TV can return to its glory days, before streaming networks took all the best shows and gobs of young viewership.

6 Ways Network TV Can Return to Glory

For the purposes of this article, I’m including HBO and Showtime into the “streaming networks” category, since they are “pay TV/commercial free” premium entities.

1. Sign Stables of Young Acting Talent

This will cost some money up front, of course, which networks currently have, but will soon lose, as streaming TV networks continue to cut into their slices of pie.

But by signing large groups of young (and old) actors and actresses to multi-year network exclusivity, they can keep them from going to either Netflix or premium networks. These actors can also get add-ons in their contracts that ties them to movie deals with partnered studios. For instance, anyone that signs with NBC might also get a two-movie deal with Universal added in, while Paramount gets actors from CBS, Fox actors go to 21st Century Fox films and ABC actors can get tied into some upcoming Disney projects.

As a matter of fact, these networks should insist on actor tie-ins with movies and other productions to increase the value of each performer.

2. Dump 23-Episode Shows, Especially Dramas

Bingeing on a series from Netflix or Amazon means you’re committing to a 10- to 12-episode season, and if you’re a couple seasons behind, you’re looking at 20 to 24 episodes. If this is an hour-long drama, that’s quite a commitment. Now, look at the 23-25 episode seasons put out by the networks, and people find themselves lost in the abundance.

Since we’re cutting seasons in half, they should now either run another new series right after it (from winter to spring), or they should consider just rerunning the entire series from the beginning, hoping to catch viewers that missed it the first time around. Actors will be happier to sign with networks, considering it’s less time they are locked down for, enabling them to get involved with other projects.

3. Offer Commercial-Free Premium Channels

People are sick of commercials – this has been obvious since the advent of commercials. So offer them an opportunity to watch all of their favorite network TV shows – without commercials.

Hulu Plus already offers this for q $4-per-month difference (From a standard $7.99 per month option to a commercial-free option for $11.99 per month).

If the networks band together to offer commercial-free, on-demand viewing for $10-$15 per month, they could split that revenue and add it to their free coverage that brings in ad money.

4. Institute a Pilots Season Draft Like the NFL Draft

As a sports fan, I enjoy the parity that happens in the NFL, as teams can go from bad to good within just a few years because of some smart draft choices. For instance, Super Bowl 50 in 2016 was between the Broncos and Panthers, which also happened to have the top two picks in the 2011 NFL Draft.

If we allow the worst network, according to ratings to get the first pick during the TV pilot season, which usually runs between January and April. Make it an open event – streaming online at Hulu, even – and let the audience help out. Now, if we have actors tied in because of a stable contract, then maybe that contract moves over to whichever network signs him.

Then the second-worst network the previous season gets the second pick, and so on. This helps bring in the best new shows to the worst networks, while also still giving the best networks the fourth choice for that year, which is probably still a very good show.

5. Stop Canceling TV Shows Early

Along with the above “Pilot Season Draft” idea, networks should be forced to produce a TV show through at least one entire season before they choose to cancel it. And even then, viewers should have a bigger say in what gets canceled. This could certainly skew to shows for younger people, as they’ll likely vote more often than older people, but in this social media age, when my 72-year-old mother manages Facebook with ease, it should be easy to see which shows are least and most liked.

By not canceling shows early, they give a series a chance to build interest, much like shows do on Netflix and Amazon. That means that writers don’t have to add crazy shock scenes early on, setting us up for disappointment later. Writing for a show that’s guaranteed to be around for 10-13 episodes is much different than writing for a show that stays greenlit after the third show.

Even after that first season, these series should get second lives on the networks’ secondary channels. For instance, if Fox cancels a show after one year, they should move it over to FX or even FXX to see if it has legs there. NBC can move shows over to USA Network, and so on.

6. Petition For Changes From Standards & Practices

One of the biggest reasons better writers decide to create great streaming shows (besides the cache and the cash, ay?), is that they don’t have to deal with censors from the networks. Obviously, it’s going to be tough to get S&P to change, but maybe they can trade content from earlier in the night for more adult content later in the evening. In other words, no show before 9pm ET can have a single bad word or situation, but the guidelines loosen up much more than they do now (think PG-13 movies) after 9pm ET.

In reality, kids and teens aren’t watching network TV anyway, so this isn’t going to change much, but it will bring in better writing talent and better scripts.

All of these ideas aren’t necessarily winners, but there are certainly some ideas that can help network TV rebound and take a chunk back of the young viewership that’s ending up over at the streaming networks.

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