Pondering the Cable Timed-Exclusive: Friday Night Lights and Jericho

Last week, Friday Night Lights was saved from near cancellation by NBC and DirecTV, the later received a three month timed-exclusive on the airing of new episodes of the series. Essentially, the deal is designed to compel users to renew or sign up for DirecTV to see the episodes early, and hopefully NBC makes enough money from the deal to keep the show profitable.

Considering the apparent success of the plan in theory, the easy question is “Who’s Next?”

According to the New York Times, the answer could be the fan-favourite Jericho, a series that bowed for what was to be its final episode last month:

“Television executives say this model could help keep other sentimental favorites on the air. For instance, CBS Paramount Network Television has held talks with Comcast, the cable provider, about finding new life for “Jericho,” the low-rated drama canceled by CBS last month, according to two people briefed on the talks who requested anonymity.”

This is yet another hail mary, it seems, for Carol Barbee and the show’s producers: it is an opportunity to save the show, but also another opportunity to give fans false hope of the series’ success.

This is one of those situations where it feels as if television is finding a new way to find profit, which on the surface is a good thing: less dependence on Nielsen numbers has worked to keep some HBO/Showtime shows on the air beyond their rough patches. Showtime, in particular, showed patience with Dexter and Weeds due to their critical acclaim – the same goes for Battlestar Galactica. So seeing more of this model is good, isn’t it?

But it really isn’t that model at all – it’s a half-assed attempt at making money through that model while remaining, ultimately, dependent on the broadcast airings that would follow. NBC executives are playing down what has been called “A Victory for BitTorrent Users,” but that’s what it is – either people will pony up the cash for the early airings or they will just download the episodes illegally.

But what will the ratings be, then, for the regular viewings months later? Will even rabid Jericho fans be willing to wait months to see the new episodes when they will be readily available? NBC has said that in order to remain profitable FNL needs to retain its ratings from this past season…but why would they remain the same considering the amount of viewers who have access to the episodes early?

Which is why I’m not sure if this model actually does a show like Jericho any favours: it would return to the air as a test of an unproven method which is bound to fail, and does Jericho really want to be the poster child for a failed attempt to stray from the traditional Nielsen method of judging a show’s success? The show has the potential to continue, as these talks demonstrate, but CBS as a network has always been more conservative than NBC and it might show here in their willingness to take the risk.

Either way, stay tuned to see where this all goes – and whether Jericho fans might be flocking to a premium cable service in the months ahead.

5 Comments

Filed under Jericho

5 responses to “Pondering the Cable Timed-Exclusive: Friday Night Lights and Jericho

  1. To be fair, a whole lot of people don’t download shows because they’re not tech-savvy enough, their connections are too slow, they don’t like change, they want to see the shows on a bigger screen, etc… and a WHOLE lot of people already have DirecTV or are willing to switch to get something they want.

  2. Glad to see you back Myles! While I’m certainly glad to see FNL return, I agree that this model may not be the best move for shows like that and Jericho. If anything, it’s going to give them a season more of episodes before the networks realize it’s not actually bringing more people to the series.

    Perhaps if these FNL episodes were sponsored by Direct TV but made available *online*, instead of on a little-seen satellite channel, they could actually increase the audience of the show. With this, it’s mainly going to be hardcore downloading like you say.

  3. Oakling, I think that you’re right in the sense that there will never be a scenario where we will see the death of traditional television.

    However, at the same time, I also think that these shows are shows that are fairly internet-based – look at how many Jericho fans watch the show online at CBS.com as opposed to on television compared to other series’ ratios. And FNL’s fanbase is critics, TV Snobs and internet folks; I don’t know if I’ve ever met someone outside of those merits or those who are friends with such people.

    So these are going to be the audiences – and if these exclusive arrangements are designed to increase overall viewership (As Devindra alludes to, and as the Times article states), it’s wishful thinking. There is a lot of “Ideally, DirecTV will pimp the show and all sorts of people will watch it” floating around, and I just can’t bank on that. Call my cynical, but I just don’t buy it.

    And Devindra, it’s good to be back…although a research paper and three exams to go before I’m back for good.

  4. ROY ELIASSON

    Jericho any spoilers on next season?

  5. Pingback: Cultural Learnings’ 2008-2009 Network Upfronts Analysis « Cultural Learnings

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