Video vs TV: The Death of Prime Time


For a long time in TV, there has been something called the ‘Friday night death slot’. It was said that if a show airs at this time, typically between 8 and 11pm, it’s destined for cancellation. Among many others, it was the fate that met Knight Rider, The A-Team, Firefly, and The Flintstones.

It happened because of a few big national or international hit shows that always aired on Friday nights and drew in millions and millions of viewers. It was the power of Prime time.

More recently, though, with more and more people choosing to turn off the TV and turn towards the likes of YouTube, Netflix, gaming, and social media, the term has come to also be used for Friday, Saturday, or even any other evening TV block.

And today, it’s becoming even hard to talk about TVs lack of engagement in terms of slots or blocks. The whole viewing schedule is looking ever more like a graveyard, and definitely not in the entertaining zombie apocalypse sort of way.

This is particularly sad as Prime time, and being able to acquire exclusive broadcasting rights for big shows, events, and occasions, granted TV the focal point in many homes. But now you can stream the awards show online, hear the inside gossip on Instagram, and do it all before it even reaches TV networks and mainstream media, what good is waiting for it to be shown on a static lump of plastic in the corner of the room?

One thing is for sure: traditional TV, not just prime time, is on it’s way out. How quickly it will go, though, is another question. Let’s take a look at two trends in particular that are digging its grave and playing the leading roles in its demise.

Bye bye set-top tox, hello live streaming

After the switch to digital, to watch live satellite TV you needed a dedicated set-top box. This additional piece of hardware would sit alongside or underneath your tele and do little more than confuse you by adding another remote control and step in between you and your viewing.

Today you can stream live TV over your wireless connection with zero buffer, so set-top boxes and the networks that operate them are either quickly becoming redundant or being forced to evolve into something new. Two of the biggest traditional TV providers in the US, AT&T and Dish Network, got in on the action early and now run the hugely popular live streaming subscription services DirectTV Now and SlingTV, respectively. In the UK, BBC has its Iplayer app and Sky TV has the SkyQ box which even includes Netflix.

Traditional TV hasn’t got it easy if it wants to survive. There are now a whole array of services that allow you to stream live TV on demand — as well as those mentioned above, other leaders include Hulu with Live TV, Roku, Now TV, and PlayStation Vue. As the content lives in the cloud and can be streamed wirelessly, sometimes all you need is an app, but for the most comprehensive range of services, you do need a box or at least a usb stick.

Which service you choose to part the monthly fee with has a lot to do with things like the channels available in your area, how many simultaneous streams you need, and, crucially, the ability to watch recorded content and skip through the ads.

This is a game-changing feature for the new generation of viewers that are growing up with ad-free TV. The cloud DVR feature that most services offer is one way to get around this. However, many services like YouTube TV don’t let you skip through the ads — unless you pay a bit more, that is.

Let’s NOT go to a commercial break

The advertising model made sense when networks were able to attract masses of eyeballs and continue pumping out high-quality content. But now thanks to DVRs and the emergence of on-demand services like Netflix, Hulu, and Prime TV, viewers never have to be interrupted or annoyed by ad breaks ever again.

While this is happening, TV networks are increasing ad prices for prime time slots in attempt to stay afloat. Despite plummeting ratings and the fact advertisers can get much more bang for their buck working with digital and big data giants like Google and Facebook.

The best traditional TV has to offer is its prime time ad slots. These ads potentially reach the eyes of millions of viewers, but who exactly those viewers are and how relevant the ads are to them is a whole other question.

Digital advertising, on the other hand, allows businesses to target ads to people who they know are already interested in what they’re offering. For instance, instead of generic TV viewer profiles like “housewife with two kids”, digital user profiles offer a highly specific and contextual profile, like “housewife with two kids who like to travel and is currently looking for a car”. Factor in that younger viewers who hold the biggest spending power are less and less likely to spend their Saturday’s watching X Factor or The Greatest Dancer, and traditional TV ads are only good if you’re selling life insurance and PPI claims.

Some networks are changing. Fox has announced it’s going to reduce ad time to as little as two minutes an hour by 2020. Others are experimenting with ad-supported storytelling that “seamlessly” integrate businesses and brands into the plotline. Exploring such alternative models like sponsorship and product placement may seem a step backwards, but it’s going to become increasingly necessary if the granddaddies of TV are going to keep attracting new viewers and stay alive.