Cable networks that hope repurposed broadcast-network programming will yield significant increases in the ratings have yet to realize a major windfall.
But while ratings for "virtual original" programming such as 24, Charmed
and a pair of Law and Order
spinoffs have not generated big household numbers, cable-network executives said the experiments have attracted a significant amount of viewers from within their target audiences.
"Nobody's hitting a home run, but it hasn't been a strikeout either," Lifetime Television senior vice president of research Tim Brooks said.
The latest entry in the repurposing field — the Fox broadcast network's much hyped 24
— has struggled early to capture breakout ratings on broadcast or cable. The Nov. 11 and Nov. 12 encore plays of the initial 24
episode on FX — five days after Fox's first run — generated a cumulative 1.1 rating, according to the cable network.
But network senior vice president of planning and research Steve Leblang said the two airings increased ratings for the network's 18-to-34 target demo by a cumulative 37 percent within their respective time periods. The Nov. 11 show aired at 12 midnight, while the Nov. 12 show ran at 11 p.m.
HOPES FOR '24'
Some observers believed that the encore editions of 24
might hold greater value than other repurposed fare because the series — which stars Kiefer Sutherland as a government agent trying to stop an assassination attempt on a presidential candidate — unfolds in "real time." Each of 24's hour-long installments represents one hour of the fictional day.
FX's numbers follow less-than-stellar performances for 24
on Fox. Despite heavy on-air promotion during such high-profile programming as the World Series, 24's Nov. 6 debut — in the midst of the sweeps period, and up against foes like NBC's Frasier
and the ninth season premiere of NYPD Blue
— managed just a 7.5 rating. That ranked it No. 37 overall for the week, according to Nielsen Media Research figures. But 24
did finish first for the time period among adults 18 to 49.
The show's Nov. 13 performance didn't keep up the pace, though — it was down 27 percent in household ratings and 19 percent in adults 18 to 49, according to Nielsen. Even the network's last-minute decision to repeat 24
in primetime three days later — and two days before FX's debut of the premiere episode — didn't produce any significant ratings increases.
Leblang downplayed Fox's decision to repeat 24
over the air prior to its run on FX, saying the two networks are working together to achieve the maximum performance from the spy series.
"It's something that wasn't initially thought of in the plan, but we're in this collectively with Fox," Leblang said. Network executives expect the show to do better as the series progresses, he added.
FX's early repurposing returns aren't much different those experienced by other cable networks that have offered such short-window repeats. Household ratings for such shows aren't stellar, but most network executives said the shows have resonated with the respective cable channels' target audiences.
In fact, Turner Network Television executive vice president and general manager Steve Koonin said he isn't much interested in the 1.2 rating TNT has averaged with the five airings of Charmed, from sister broadcast network The WB. The supernatural series' effect on the network's 18-to-49-year-old target audience is more important for the drama branded service, he said.
The show — which airs Thursdays on The WB, then on subsequent Tuesdays on TNT — has helped the network increase ratings for the network's key 18-to-49 demo by 26 percent, compared with last year.
And because the TNT and The WB airings have a viewer-duplication rate of less than 3 percent, Charmed
allows the network to expose new viewers to TNT programming.
"What it does is bring a new audience to TNT and allow us to position a movie like The Matrix
to viewers that we wouldn't normally get," Koonin said.
USA network's repeat of two Law and Order
spinoffs — which debut on NBC — have bolstered household ratings and viewership in its target demographic of adults 25-to-54 during their respected time periods.
Law and Order: Criminal Intent
— which airs Saturdays at 11 p.m., 13 days after its debut on NBC — has generated a 75- percent household rating increase for its time period and more than a 125-percent increase for the 25-to-54 demo, according to USA senior vice president of research Ray Giacopelli.
And Law and Order: Special Victims Unit, now in its third year of USA repurposing, continues to post double-digit increases in both household and target demo ratings during its slot on Sundays at 11 p.m., according to network officials.
Lifetime's Brooks said repurposed programming is a rare coup for the television industry, in that it seemingly doesn't adversely affect any of the parties involved. It also provides cable networks with original programming that appeals to its demographic.
He pointed to Lifetime's ability to attract a 50 percent viewer-per-viewing-household index — the estimated number of women 18 to 49 in a particular household tuned into the network during a given time period — for its encores of ABC's Once And Again
on Wednesdays. Those runs follow an ABC premiere the prior Friday.
For the broadcasters, repurposing provides a secondary revenue source that helps offset production costs without hurting ratings.
"When the first ones were done, there was some speculation that it would either be a big hit on the cable network or it wouldn't work at all," Brooks said. "After a couple of year's experience, we've learned that repurposed programming will bring big things to cable — not in ratings, but demographics.
"It also does no harm at all to the broadcast run," Brooks added. "In fact, there's some feeling the added promotion may help it."
And given the present slump in the advertising marketplace, most executives believe that viewers will see more repurposing efforts in the future.
TNT's Koonin said Turner is bullish on what he calls "virtual originals" and will seek additional opportunities to work with The WB, although he would not reveal specifics.
R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.
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