Event programming is here to stay, no matter the platform

This could be a picture of James Bond, Jack Bauer, Jason Bourne, or anyone else with a JB. That’s the point.

I’ve written about event programming here before in the context of live TV, so here’s an update. At a certain point, we had to know it was coming: just like the movies, it’s getting harder and harder to take a good risk on TV. That’s a shocking thought during this golden age of television, but it’s true. My first sign of this apocalypse was FOX’s recent announcement that they’re bringing back one of my favorite shows, 24, but this time for only 12 consecutive weeks. It’s a perfect marketing formula for network head Kevin Reilly, based on a pre-existing property with a huge built in fan base, a star who’s not really been able to get anything else going since the show ended (The Confession, we hardly knew ye), and a topic (terrorism) that’s still red hot. Mark my words, when it’s time for those episodes to start airing, we’ll be inundated with Jack Bauer imagery on TV and off, and it’s all we’ll be talking about for 3 months.

Sound familiar? Maybe like a certain series of superhero movies that all led up to the highest-grossing superhero film of all time? Or the other series of superhero movies trying to do the same thing, from a different studio? Or maybe you’ve noticed how many sequels, reboots, re-imaginings, and re-jiggerings of older movies we’ve seen lately? I just passed a billboard today with a big Man of Steel picture on it asking “…but how does he shave?” It’s not rocket science, it’s easy marketing, and it’s the same thing FOX is after with 24.

Cable networks aren’t far behind in this strategy. A+E jumped into the ring first, launching A+E Studios to start capturing production profits and further exploit successful IP the company owns. In this vertically integrated environment, the studio is incentivized to find a hit and milk it, taking only calculated risks (that’s industry speak for “no risks at all”).

YouTube can save us, right? In theory anyone can start a YouTube channel and find popularity, so creators are more apt to take risks. But not so fast: as Jason Calacanis and many others have been talking about the past few weeks, it’s not so easy to turn a profit on YouTube alone, especially not as a single content creator unaffiliated with a multi-channel network. If you’re a new guy entering the fold, you rely on your own type of event programming to make sure you can get found. For some, that means making lists with clickable titles (Buzzfeed is far from the only one doing this…looking at you, Smosh). For others that means making a huge deal with a brand, who will convert marketing dollars for you to make sure they see at least some return on their investment (I call it the Forward Unto Dawn model). For other still, that means using an MCN to drive viewership (not necessarily engagement) that will allow you to tell a story or success from season to season (DanceOn does this well for Dance Showdown, a great show that they make sure works).

Events just work, no way around it. In the emerging media economy, event programming will get bigger in every medium, giving us more expensive movies with extra services at the theatre (as Spielberg and Lucas talked about this past week), bigger TV shows from fewer networks, and massively dominant web channels whose business models will soon fall into line behind their broadcast and cable predecessors. Risks will have to be taken the old fashioned way: by those of us with nothing to lose.

Leave a Reply