Don’t blame Netflix for the audience shift to streaming, blame the TV Networks

Nathan CookIt’s not the streaming services stealing viewers from free-to-air, it’s the TV network’s abandonment of natural half hour scheduling which is luring audiences away and creating a new 9pm online “primetime” argues Maxus’s Nathan Cook. 

Free-to-air networks need to stop blaming Netflix. It’s not the streaming platform’s fault consumers are making the switch.

A lot of the disloyalty among viewers has been caused by TV network arrogance in the way they treat viewers.

Local programming that runs over, US programming that doesn’t air day-in-date. Living in the global community, how can we expect people’s curiosity won’t get the better of them, driving viewers to seek content elsewhere?

Once upon a time, you could set your watch by the free-to-air schedule. The news came on at 6pm, ending at 6.30pm, the evening movie started at 8.30pm. This regularity has gone the way of Hey Hey It’s Saturday.

It’s become an all too common practice for start and finish times to be staggered by five, 10 or 15 minutes and sometimes more, in a bid by networks to hang onto viewers.

Too bad if you are watching House Rules on Monday night and the following show, Revenge, isn’t your cup of tea.

At best you’ve probably missed 10 minutes of the next show on any other network. Are you really going to switch in half way through, or will you pick up the IQ remote, watch it in time shift, or revert to Netflix or Stan?

At last week’s Mumbrella360 conference, the local bosses of streaming services discussed their offerings and the state of the market.

CEO of Stan, Mike Sneesby, said he is seeing a new primetime around 9pm: “One of the things we’ve seen very clearly is effectively the creation of a new primetime. It starts almost like a brick wall at 9pm.”

For many years the networks have conditioned the viewer to consuming linear TV in a certain way.

The combination of this conditioning and staggered finish times has opened up a window for other providers of entertainment. It should ring alarm bells for many.

Looking across free-to-air and digital commercial stations, for people 25-54, so far in 2015 audiences have dropped by 24.6 per cent at 21:30 from the previous half hour.

This is compared to 21.9 per cent in 2014 and only 16.5 per cent in 2011.Screen Shot 2015-06-11 at 10.50.16 am


The networks have brought this upon themselves by trying to outsmart their competitors and hold the audience.

“On the viewer’s terms” seems to be the catchphrase of the day. As far as I’m concerned, there’s plenty of life in the ol’ TV yet.

But the viewer experience needs to be fixed.

The networks need to work together to bring back the natural program junctions and adhere to the traditional junctions we used to see back in the early 2000s. The US market still follow this alignment and we haven’t seen the same level of decay there as we have had.

Let’s give that a shot before we decide the existing model needs a rethink.

Nathan Cook is the national trading director at Maxus.


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