Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Ratings Five-Spot Extra - Voicing Thoughts on The Voice

I didn't say much about the larger significance of The Voice's ratings last week because it seemed way premature; the show could fade to nothing in the next few weeks. That's still possible (perhaps the blind auditions heavily plugged in the promos were the real draw), but it seems a lot less likely now that it's had a more-than-solid week two. Perhaps it'll be invalidated in the coming weeks, but I'll take the risk and assume NBC has a big puzzle piece to work with going forward. Here are some early thoughts on what it all means:

  • The first two weeks - Plenty has been said about these early ratings by me and everyone else, but it's worth reiterating. The 5.1 demo for the two-hour premiere was easily the season's largest series premiere, well ahead of the previous high 4.5 for Bob's Burgers (which also had a much bigger lead-in than The Voice). It was the week's third-highest-rated program, trailing only two episodes of American Idol. Then in week two came a 5.6 demo. That's growth in week two of 10%. It might even beat the Thursday Idol this week! While many of the big reality franchises historically have started building immediately, it's still fairly rare these days. Zero of the season's thirty-six scripted launches built in week two.
  • This time of year - I observed this while doing the War of 18-49 last summer, but quite a few of the big regular season reality franchises of today launched at unconventional times of year, and many of those were (like The Voice) late spring/early summer, which is supposed to be the end-of-season time. The Bachelor launched on March 25, America's Next Top Model on May 20, Survivor on May 31, Dancing with the Stars on June 1, American Idol on June 11. The Voice (April 27) was a little earlier than most of those but still in the vicinity. All the others then made the transition to regular season powerhouses. Maybe it doesn't matter, but it is a weird coincidence. This seems a ripe time of year to introduce big reality programming in a summer environment that people follow to the regular season. Not saying recent reality duds like Skating with the Stars or Live to Dance would've broken out with a late-April launch, but perhaps it's an underutilized time to get something like this going.
  • Immediate scheduling - Like with most reality franchises, this one was not set up to chew up tons of the schedule in season one. Season one of Dancing with the Stars was just six airings, and now it usually airs 20+ times (and longer length). American Idol's first season aired just 25 times, and that number's now usually 40+. It's hard to blame the network, because what if it flops? (A notable example of this mistake was Fox's Spielberg/Burnett filmmaking show On the Lot during the summer of 2007, which had been set up as one of these sprawling all-over-the-schedule shows but had to get significantly scaled back once it bombed and probably only even made it through the season because of all the pedigree involved.) So next week, The Voice is scheduled to switch to a one-hour format airing at 10/9c. This was initially slated for 8/7c but was switched after the premiere ratings, presumably in an effort to avoid Glee and American Idol and even the Dancing recaps. Is it really in NBC's best interest to air so little of the show? I don't know for sure that they could squeeze much more footage out of the pre-taped "battle rounds," but you would think they could certainly beef up the live shows. Even throwing in some sort of recap special in the immediate future would seem like a good play. There are other problems, like the two-hour eps of The Biggest Loser for the next three weeks. Perhaps the Biggest Loser eps could be split up, with half on Tuesday leading into The Voice and half on Wednesday. It'd hurt that show's ratings, but that's not too big of a deal. I really feel like they should be doing something. They have so much Tuesday goodness yet two hours of Wednesday real estate that are a complete disaster area right now. We'll see if there are any more changes ahead.
  • Future scheduling - There are a couple issues for this show going forward. The first is where to put the show. Obviously there are logistical things beyond my purview, but the ratings thus far are certainly regular season-caliber ratings and not summer ones. Fall or spring? I like the fall. Perhaps a Tuesday/Wednesday scheduling could throw a direct challenge at Fox's upcoming X-Factor (which will air Wednesday/Thursday). The second issue is that this show is probably going to be taking up a lot more hours on the schedule in future seasons (nice problem to have!). Four hours of blind auditions in season one will truly seem like the good old days. I could see that becoming eight (two hours a night, two nights a week, two weeks), maybe even more. Maybe the teams will get bigger. If we get through season one and the ratings are anywhere near the current vicinity, it's gonna be taking up a lot more time.
  • Build a House - Most of the big reality franchises can say they've launched at least one scripted show. The two pairings that immediately spring to mind are Survivor/CSI and American Idol/House. If NBC can use The Voice to create something that big (adjusting for the era we're in now), they may truly be back in the competitive game. But plenty of other reasonably long-running shows have been helped along quite a bit by a reality lead-in. There's Castle and perhaps Body of Proof after Dancing with the Stars, there's Parenthood after The Biggest Loser. America's Next Top Model helped One Tree Hill through its particularly ratings-troubled times early in the CW era and also launched Gossip Girl. American Idol deserves at least some of the credit in several cases beyond House, like 24 and several comedies that got paired with it. All those shows probably would've had more trouble getting off the ground without the reality lead-in help. NBC's gotta find something that can capitalize, and it's often procedural/standalone dramas (CSI, House, Castle) that seem the biggest potential beneficiaries. Can NBC find the next big procedural franchise?

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