HRTS: Comedy Central’s Alterman Cites ‘Disconnect’ Between Popularity, Ratings

Beverly Hills, Calif.—The gulf between buzz and ratings in the television business right now is wide, and it’s making programmers’ decision-making processes more complex, according to Kent Alterman, president, content development and original programming, Comedy Central.

“There’s a lag and a disconnect between, basically, popularity on one hand and measurement and monetization on the other,” Alterman said Thursday at the Hollywood Radio and Television Society’s Fall Programmer’s Summit. When moderator Andy Greenwald of Grantland cited Comedy Central’s Key and Peele as a show whose popularity on digital platforms outstrips its performance in linear television ratings, pointing out that the show’s sketches tally millions of views online, Alterman deadpanned, “We live in a world that’s just not fair.”

Alterman and Greenwald were joined onstage by Susanne Daniels, president of programming for MTV and Nick Grad, president, original programming, FX Networks and FX Productions. Daniels offered an optimistic outlook on the problem of measurement.

"I think there won’t always be a disconnect,” Daniels said. “I think we’ll move in a way where we’ll start to measure those different viewing patterns and it will all be at peace."

Asked by Greenwald how FX uses ratings numbers, Grad said, “We try to look at them in terms of who’s watching the show. When it comes down to the decision making of picking up shows and giving them another season, I think we’re always looking at if there’s potential for this show to grow and how big is the audience for this show. And you have to unfortunately not be focused totally on the single-day numbers or what the monetizable numbers are, because hopefully the technology catches up and you can monetize more people.”

Fielding a question about the volume of original programming on television Grad said that programmers now have to live with the prospect that if they pass on the show it has a good chance of being picked up by another network, where it could find success. Greenwald asked him about Broad City, which landed on Comedy Central after originally being in development at FX.

“I’ve seen the show, and I think it’s great,” Grad said. “We would love to have that show. Sometimes you only have so much information that’s in front of you with the script and you have to make decisions. There’s plenty of things that you sort of regret, but you have to move on.”

Daniels then noted, “that’s always the way with these jobs,” and pointed to an example from her past at Fox in the 90s. “I passed on Fear Factor. Yay.”

Greenwald also brought up the issue of what he called “blockbusterization,” citing several shows currently in development that are adaptations of previously existing properties such as movies.

“On behalf of the network that brought people Fargo, I apologize for whatever is going to come now next development season,” Grad said.