Is broadcast TV on a downward spiral? Execs are starting to show their concern. We contribute to their stress by watching our favorite shows online—when we want, for free, and with few commercials. And now a recent study shows that more people are watching Hulu than they are Time Warner Cable, a trend that's surely generating some hand-wringing among the networks. Sure, broadcast has the car ads (though fewer than before), but what happens as viewers increasingly turn to the Internet? How long before serious ad dollars follow? It may not be imminent, but here are some of the efforts—good and bad—that we're seeing to get viewers to grab the remote.
Cut commercial time
ABC leads the pack with eight new shows this fall, which means retaining viewers is a must. In an effort to keep channel surfers from surfing during premiere episodes, ABC is surrendering ad dollars and cutting the first commercial break from new prime-time series. This will add as much as three extra minutes of content to comedy series and five extra minutes to dramas, and new drama FlashForward (above) will run for nearly 18 minutes before viewers see an ad.
Give them free stuff
Cablevision has announced plans to introduce interactive advertisements to keep viewers' attention during commercial breaks. Use your remote to click on an ad, and samples or coupons will be mailed directly to you. It's hard to imagine this being a huge success, but advertisers may get on board—according to ad firm BrightLine iTV, interactive TV ads have a click rate of about two to three percent, a virtual leap from the .27 percent click rate of traditional internet ads.
Let them Tweet
It's a mere week into the new season, and this one's already failed. Fox tried to integrate television and Twitter earlier this month by broadcasting episodes of Fringe and Glee with a live Twitter feed overlay, giving viewers the opportunity to direct questions at cast and crew members and receive responses. A good idea in theory, but the feed crowded the screen, blocked the action, and left viewers frustrated, even causing them to change the channel.
Get Neil Patrick Harris to sing and dance
Sunday's broadcast of the 61st Primetime Emmy Awards upped the fun factor with more jokes, more skits, more music, and a way-more-fun host (remember last year's group-hosting efforts by the best reality show host nominees? We don't either). Harris has been credited with the show's success—it received its highest ratings in three years (13.3 million viewers). That's a small increase in viewership at just 6%, but it's huge improvement from last year's show, which received the lowest ratings in ceremony history.
The added flash seen at the Emmy's has been a trend in fall's lineup—TV execs have cited "noise" as a necessity this season. To draw viewers in, creating chatter and intrigue is more important than ever when so many viewing options exist.
Can't beat 'em? Join 'em
European broadcasters, including the BBC, are working to implement hybrid television, which would unite the best of the TV and internet worlds in one offering. The hybrid services, like the BBC's Project Canvas, would not only offer regular TV programming, but also catch-up capabilities. In addition, developers would be able to create customized applications to accompany what viewers are watching. According to the New York Times, a viewer could watch a cooking show and then be presented with links to similar programs, recipes, or the Web sites of retailers selling ingredients to a particular dish. Some Project Canvas services, which the BBC hopes will be in place by the 2012 Olympic Games, will carry a fee, but viewers will not have to subscribe.