Too Much TV: Your TV Talking Points For Thursday, August 19th, 2021
Is there a TV show with a more "torn from the headlines" feel than the CBS comedy "United States Of Al?"
Here's everything you need to know about the world of television for Thursday, August 19th, 2021. I'm writing this from the Twin Cities suburbs, where AllYourScreens HQ is powered by a Tuna Salad sandwich from Panera.
BROADCAST TELEVISION PROMOTION IN 2021
There are a lot of obvious structural differences between broadcast television and streaming services. But from my perspective, one of the biggest is the way each industry markets and promotes its shows. In a world where new shows are premiering every day of the week, 52 weeks a year, getting out ahead of the premiere with your marketing and PR efforts is a must. There is nothing more frustrating than getting pitched on a show 2-3 weeks before the premiere. It not only creates time constraints for me, but it also doesn't do your show any favors. There is a lot of competition for the limited amount of attention the average viewer can devote to television. And part of the challenge for any network or streaming service is just breaking through the clutter and getting their show on the viewer's radar. In most cases, you can't just depend on the tried-and-true PR efforts to make an impact. You need more than a couple of pieces in the trade magazines to have an impact in the marketplace.
I've made this argument a lot over the past few years, but I was reminded of it today when I reached out to the publicist heading up coverage of a broadcast network procedural premiering in early October. "Oh, we aren't at the point where we're ready to start booking coverage ideas yet." Thinking about these things 6 weeks out might have sounded like crazy talk in 2011. But in 2021, I genuinely believe that promoting shows should be a non-stop job. It's not just a matter of sending out a couple of screeners or setting up a few interviews. Networks should be providing a steady stream of promotional content to fans and to the press. Not all of it will hit the mark - frankly, maybe only 20% will end up being effective. But in such a crowded media environment, it's the only way to have an impact.
Which brings me to the CBS comedy United States Of Al. The show returns for a second season on Thursday, October 7th, and it's fair to say that the show wasn't a shoo-in to be renewed last Spring. I liked the show a lot, and even though it isn't perfect, it's a comedy that has carved out an unusual corner of television. The show centers around a Marine combat veteran struggling to readjust to civilian life in Ohio and the Interpreter who served with his unit in Afghanistan. It's hard to imagine a comedy with a more torn-from-the-headlines feel, and the events now unfolding in Afghanistan make it even more likely that new viewers might be lured into catching up on the first season.
Now I am well aware that the current situation in Afghanistan is fairly horrific, and being seen as trying to capitalize on the current airlifts could be a PR disaster. But there are ways that United States Of Al can be brought into the public conversation in subtle and even helpful ways.
The first way is just getting the show in front of people. If you visit the CBS section of Paramount+, the "trending" tab includes everything from SEAL Team to Perry Mason. But there's no mention of United States Of Al. Viewers have to be searching for the show to find it buried halfway down the page in the comedy section. There should be targeted digital advertising highlighting the premise of the show. As well as scheduling a four-episode "marathon" of episodes on CBS. Get the main cast out there talking about the show in a general way. Or even better, donate money to one or more of the organizations trying to get Afghans out of the country. A message of "yes, we're a comedy, but the show is built on the special relationship between these two men, and we want to highlight these real-life examples" could be an effective and still uncontroversial PR effort. And part of that messaging is to offer interviews and other content to non-traditional outlets that are read by people most interested in the real-life rescue efforts.
For all I know, these discussions are already taking place at CBS. I hope they are, because these targeted promotional efforts could have an impact on the resettlement efforts. And they can also raise the profile of a show that barely survived season one. In a broadcast television world where slumping ratings are the new norm, adding even a few hundred thousand new viewers can have an outsized impact on the future success of any show.
NETFLIX'S GLOBAL PRODUCTION AMBITIONS
Netflix presented some of its programming to TV critics on Thursday, and it was interesting to see that the streamer focused almost entirely on its global television production. Three shows were highlighted with panels and all of them - The Witcher, Lupin, and Money Heist - are produced outside the U.S. And much was made by Netflix executive Bela Bajaria about the popularity of international productions in the U.S. One statistic was that 97% of all U.S. Netflix subscribers had sampled at least one non-English series in 2021. She also noted that Lupin was the most popular Netflix original series launched in 2021.
One of the ongoing battles I have with other TV industry analysts is about Netflix's efforts to create a truly international production and distribution system. A number of U.S. media companies produce local content in multiple countries and territories. But because the perception was that most local content didn't travel globally, the programs were rarely shared across the language barrier. For nearly every major media company, the mantra is that English-language content is adored globally. But non-English content has a natural audience ceiling and it's foolish to put money into efforts to change that.
Speaking with Netflix executives on background, it's clear that the company's efforts to create a global presence were driven by efforts to solve several different problems. Ten years ago, it was clear that Netflix was going to end up losing most of its licensed content as studios began clawing back content to run on their own streaming services. The best case scenario was that Netflix would be able to retain some of it, but at a cost that would make profitability almost impossible.
But creating IP from scratch is challenging in the best of circumstances. Yes, you can buy or develop TV shows and movies based on IP from other mediums such as graphic novels. But you ultimately run into a variation of the problem you have with licensed content. There is a finite amount of great English-language IP, and there is a lot of money and different companies are chasing it. Creating enough original English-language programming to fill a streaming service is nearly impossible. It's worth noting that for all of the talk of original Disney+ or HBO Max originals, most of the content on those streaming services is still catalog material. And that was a problem for Netflix, since it didn't have an existing catalog of content to stripmine.
In the end, the best option for Netflix was to leverage the global production capacity that is already in place - talented writers, producers and actors who haven't been able to break through to a global audience. And a bonus for Netflix has been that the talent has been relatively speaking more cost-effective than American-based productions. At least for now.
One of the factors that has been instrumental in Netflix's international efforts has been its willingness to spend substantial amounts of money to not only subtitle every non-English title, but provide dubbed audio in up to 30 languages. One Netflix executive I recently spoke with said that providing the dubbed audio can up viewership by "upwards of 75%," although they declined to be more specific.
Those efforts bring two advantages for Netflix. First, it creates a barrier to entry for competitors who are either unwilling or unable to devote the resources to widespread dubbing. HBO Max has been providing audio dubbing for some of its non-English productions, but typically only in 4-5 "major" languages. And for smaller American streamers who focus on international productions, the lack of the financial resources necessary to dub every production makes their efforts to add subscribers even more challenging. When I spoke with Topic General Manager Ryan Chanatry several weeks ago, he acknowledged that Netflix's practice of always dubbing non-English language productions makes things more difficult for his service:
One of the frequent discussions in the industry when it comes to larger streamers such as Netflix is whether or not American audiences are comfortable watching foreign-produced productions. Are they willing to embrace shows that include dubbed audio or subtitles? And it sounds like that isn't necessarily an issue for your subscribers?
So I think we are naturally attracting those viewers who are most inclined to watching subtitles. But the challenge that we're facing is that Netflix and now HBO, to a large extent, are defaulting foreign-language shows to dubbing. And setting up the expectation that everything you watch will be available with English audio.
And it's an interesting question that we're exploring. Who is the Money Heist or Call My Agent audience, who will watch a show that has dubbing?. And is that slightly different than the audience who watches subtitled shows? Or is it vastly different? And that's the big challenge for us. We want to bring the most engaging stories from around the world to our service. And I don't want subtitles to get in the way of that.
But right now, I think we're focused on using subtitles, and we'll explore if there's a place for dubbing on the service and how that works in the U.S. over the next year or so.
All of this is a long-winded way of saying that one of the biggest challenges for any streamer with international ambitions is figuring out how to deliver seemingly personalized viewing options to viewers across a wide variety of languages and cultures. It's no longer enough to say "Hey. everyone loves Spongebob or Seinfeld, we'll be fine."
I AM PRETTY SURE THAT THIS IS THE FIRST TEN MINUTES OF 'WESTWORLD'
Disney wants the robots in its parks to come alive. One goal: Setting them free from the confines of the rides and letting them wander walkways to turn the parks into, as one executive put it, "inhabited places:"
In the back near a black curtain a little wrinkled hand waved hello.
It was Groot.
He was about three feet tall and ambled toward me with wide eyes, as if he had discovered a mysterious new life form. He looked me up and down and introduced himself.
When I remained silent, his demeanor changed. His shoulders slumped, and he seemed to look at me with puppy dog eyes. “Don’t be sad,” I blurted out. He grinned and broke into a little dance before balancing on one foot with outstretched arms.
One advantage of developing a Groot robot is that it only has to learn to say three words.
ACM AWARDS HEAD TO AMAZON
In a first for a long-televised awards show, Amazon Prime Video has obtained the exclusive rights to the 56-year-old Academy of Country Music Awards, bringing the linear property fully into the streaming world:
Talks between the ACM Awards and CBS reportedly broke down after last November’s show drew a record low 6.3 million viewers. At the time, Dick Clark was seeking $22 million to reup for annual distribution rights, according to Variety.
“This historic partnership with ACM, [Dick Clark parent company] MRC, and Amazon Prime Video meets the industry’s need to bring awards shows to the forefront of the streaming world — exactly where fans are consuming and demanding content,” ACM’s outgoing board of directors chair, Ed Ward, said in a statement.
In theory, streaming the ACMs could provide new revenue streams for both Amazon and the various music labels and artists if Amazon was competent enough to integrate links to buy music and other merchandise into the awards show. But given that the streamer has a interface that many people consider the worst in the industry, I don't have a lot of faith in Amazons ability to create a world-class integrated viewing and ecommerce experience for viewers.
SEE YOU FRIDAY
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