The Fight For Viewers: Network TV Just Can’t Compete

Above: The third season of 'Orange Is the New Black' hits Netflix on June 12th

On the same day that the latest trailer for Season 3 of Netflix’s Orange is the New Black dropped, so too did a collection of clips for some of the shows being added to the NBC lineup in the fall. While the team-up between Jaimie Alexander and Greg Berlanti Blindspot looks like a Memento-meets-The Long Kiss Goodnight mash-up that we can definitely get behind, the rest of the new offerings feel… old.

A medical drama with a tough-ish female lead. A variety show built around Neil Patrick Harris. A Heroes reboot. Zach Morris in yet another “couples that are best friends” sitcom with bad jokes and a laugh track.

Contrasting them against OITNB, the rest of the “straight to streaming” titles that have come out in recent years or some of the offerings premium cable paints a grim picture for network television.

Save for the odd hit that emerges each season, network TV has become the land of multiple spin-offs and another season of reality classics, though the struggles of CSI: Cyber and the cancellation of American Idol after its 15th season both show that even those situations could be changing. If network television can’t just keep going to the same well over and over, what will they do?

The fact of the matter is that network television just doesn’t matchup well with the other options that exist for consumers these days. In a fight against premium cable and streaming outlets like Netflix, they’re thoroughly outgunned.

NBC (or any other major network) can’t do the same things in an hour-long drama that HBO or Netflix can; they can’t swear, show boobs or have Roose Bolton kill Robb Stark at “The Red Wedding.” They also have to allow for commercials (no one likes commercials) and build schedules for when their programs are going to air.

As much as HBO and other premium cable channels have that same structure, the quality of the programming is so far above what is being done on the networks that viewers have no issue with sticking to traditional “appointment viewing” patterns to catch their favourite shows.

It also helps that premium cable channels have been smart enough to turn Sunday into a kick-ass night for television.

During the week, people are busy – they’re staying late at work, taking the kids to various activities, trying to squeeze in a run or a date or dinner or whatever – so being home at every Thursday at 10pm to watch Hannibal is challenging, even for someone that absolutely loves Hannibal.

But Sunday night? Sunday night is the perfect night for stretching out on the couch and watching three hours of HBO – from Game of Thrones into Silicon Valley and Veep and finished with a round of Last Week Tonight with John Oliver.

Great content. Zero commercials. If you can get someone to refill your drink for you there is no reason to get off the couch other than to go to the bathroom.

Streaming sites don’t even have to worry about pesky programming schedules – they just give you all 8/10/13 episodes of your latest addiction and let you consume it at your own pace. It’s everything that was great about buying the complete season of a show and barricading yourself in over a weekend without having to get up and change the disc.

What really hamstrings network television is that the people with the really cool ideas know all of this too and far more likely to take said cool ideas to places like Showtime or Amazon Prime or basically anywhere that isn’t network TV because that’s where they have the greater opportunity to bring their project to life exactly how they envisioned.

That leaves NBC to make the 478th couples sitcom and try to reboot a show that started hot and burned out fast.

They don’t have the freedom to make a version of Constantine that works, even though it has a ton of elements – comic book adaptation, smart-ass lead character, occult themes – that should work in its favour the way AMC will likely succeed with its adaptation of Preacher once it arrives next year.

Network television can’t compete and unless they start finding hits by taking chances or catching lightning in a bottle, this fight for viewers is only going to continue getting uglier.

Tags: Game of Thrones, HBO, Netflix, Orange Is The New Black

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