Slashing Budgets, Broadcasters Bring Talk TV In-House

tv talk shows

As television audiences become ever more fragmented, broadcasters have been forced to make some tough decisions surrounding programming.

In some cases, this means letting much-loved programs go due to excessive licensing fees, but other groups have found another solution: dumping expensive Hollywood talk TV shows for their own flavor.

Traditionally, television broadcasters have paid a fee to production companies like Time Warner’s Warner Brothers, CBS or Comcast’s NBCUniversal, plus a percentage of advertising space. However, as fragmentation increases, this once-acceptable practice is becoming too costly – the ratings needed to justify that level of expense simply aren’t there.

That’s why bigger broadcasters, including Tegna, Inc., Tribune Media Co. and E.W. Scripps Co., are taking the leap into independent programming production, starting with talk TV.

Why Talk TV?

Although talk television has long captured audiences across the country, the truth of the matter is that the big names that are drawing big bucks from studios simply aren’t a requirement for audiences to watch.

Everybody wants to hire the next “Dr. Phil,” but no one wants to pay him until he’s been tested with audiences – and with current levels of audience fragmentation, most broadcasters simply may not be able to. The bar is lower than ever when it comes to ratings because television stations are well aware of the effect of so much competition for viewers.

Instead of trying to attract more eyes during the day with big names, thrifty broadcasters have determined that star power isn’t what it’s going to take to convince people to tune in. Now they’re gunning for interesting, but lesser known, characters. For example, Tribune Media launched “The Bill Cunningham Show” a few years ago because the company wanted more control over their distribution and production costs. Although the show has seen only a fraction of the success of similar shows, its 864,000 viewers are plenty to justify the limited expense of creating it.

“I can’t spend $30 million producing ‘Maury.’ I spend half that or less, and the results are a very profitable show for our company,” Sean Compton, Tribune’s president of strategic programming and acquisitions, told the Wall Street Journal. Many studio executives disagree with this strategy, but so far it certainly seems to have legs. Whether television will eventually part ways with Hollywood remains to be seen, but for simple to produce programming like talk television, it seems that the question is when, not if, broadcasters will take hold of the reins full time.


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