Aside from run-ins with the law, current A+E police docuseries "Live PD" and monster MTV reality show from yesteryear "Jersey Shore" don’t have much in common. They are both, however, breakout hits for their respective cable networks. But where MTV failed, I implore A+E to succeed. The issue at hand is how to successfully navigate television’s waters when you have a popular series.
For an outlet and an advertiser, breakout hits like these are veritable goldmines. Networks can hype their other inventory while utilizing series like "Jersey Shore" as lead-in support to potential new successes. Marketers, in turn, get their messages seen, often at bargain rates if they make a commitment before there is an explosion of interest.
But no one, of course, said finding a breakout hit was easy. It wasn’t in the past, and it certainly isn’t now, in this era of post-Peak TV.
Then, there is the issue of burnout where the "too much, too soon" syndrome can shorten the stay of any popular series. Former ABC game show "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?" is a perfect example, which leads to an interesting debate. Can it be more profitable to slow the pace and lengthen the stay of a series growing in ratings, hence spreading the advertising wealth? Or is it wiser to get all you can before the audience begins to deteriorate?
"In today’s environment where so much programming clutter makes it more difficult than ever before to find an audience, the tendency is to strike while the iron is hot and hope you have another potential hit program waiting in the wings to step in," said media analyst Brad Adgate.
A+E knows a thing or two about successful reality TV. Its series, "Duck Dynasty," garnered an estimated $80 million in advertising sales and $400 million in merchandising sales during the first three quarters of 2013. The cable network could not get enough of it, but after five seasons, it was over. A slower strategy may have limited some of that early revenue, but it could have potentially spread to more dollars in the future.
"Jersey Shore" was equal in status to "Duck Dynasty," perhaps even larger, and a cultural phenomenon of sorts tailored to the millennial audience that advertisers covet. But even it had a three-year shelf life (future spin-offs "Snooki & Jwoww" and "The Pauly D Project" paled in comparison), and an attempt to produce a special "Reunion Road Trip" as a pilot for a potential revival series (with a cast to be announced) is unlikely to warrant anywhere near the same interest.
While MTV, at the time, ran to the bank with its "Jersey Shore" juggernaut, fewer editions within that three-year window might have increased its lifespan. Five years later, MTV has not come close to finding its next big hit.
A+E is more fortunate thanks to "Live PD." Based on the recent national ratings from Nielsen on Saturday, July 15, "Live PD" reached a new zenith with 2.1 million total viewers and just over 1 million viewers among target adults ages 25-54. "Live PD" is also currently topping Friday in adults ages 18-49. And, growth for the series in total viewers since its launch has now risen to an unprecedented 152 percent.
Like "Duck Dynasty" before it, A+E must decide if gutting the airwaves with "Live PD" (an additional 100 episodes were recently ordered through 2018) is a smarter decision financially than taking a slower approach to increase its time on air.
"It always depends on the show itself and variables like marketing, licensing, merchandising and potential international appeal," said Rob Russo, President of RNR Media. "‘Live PD’ will not have the merchandising revenue opportunity as ‘Duck Dynasty’ and ‘Jersey Shore,’ and maybe not the same interest internationally, but when growth by the numbers becomes the visible pattern, I don’t know of any outlet that will take a slower approach."
"It’s all about now," he said.