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The Evolution of Appointment TV

The transition to streaming represents a shift in the media ecosystem, with traditional broadcasters navigating new challenges and opportunities. Al Reynolds, Director of Research & Analytics at TEGNA, discusses the evolving nature of media consumption and the need for broadcasters to innovate and differentiate themselves in a rapidly changing landscape.

Meredith Cunningham Published: April 9, 2024
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TLDR: Live events are experiencing a renaissance, drawing in massive audiences amidst a sea of on-demand content. A scarcity of live programming in an era dominated by streaming services and on-demand viewing options fuels this resurgence. 

In the wake of record-breaking viewership for live events — the Oscars, Super Bowl, and Grammys all come to mind — the landscape of TV advertising is undergoing a profound transformation, especially with appointment TV, live events, and sports. 

Appointment TV Viewing is Changing

“In the past, the idea of appointment TV viewing was that ‘this is the only time I can watch’ a favorite show or program unless it was recorded on a VHS or TiVo,” says Al Reynolds, Director of Research & Analytics at TEGNA. “Viewers would worry that if they waited to watch a show, they’d miss out on the watercooler conversation the next day.” 

And this phenomenon – now known as FOMO – was a big one. 

“I’m old enough to remember the Dallas finale, which culminated in this huge event attracting 33.3 million viewers,” Reynolds notes. “There was this cultural phenomenon that saw Networks manipulate audiences into tuning in and watching big season finales, like Dallas, which saw 33.3 million viewers, or Seinfeld with 76 million viewers,” he notes. 

But today, things have changed.

“So many streaming companies have created their own content, which is the watercooler talk these days,” says Reynolds. “So streaming services are blurring the lines between how you watch movies and how you watch television. With entertainment programming being available on so many platforms and everyone watching at different times, there will never be another event like the Seinfeld finale again. It’s almost mathematically impossible.”

Appointment TV Meaning

To clarify, appointment TV simply refers to television programming that viewers can watch only at specific times, as opposed to streaming or on-demand TV. This might include live sports events, popular series airing weekly at specific times, or special events.

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A Big Hit: Live Sports & The NFL

While entertainment content may never see 76 million viewers for a live finale, that viewership number pales in comparison to the numbers we’re seeing today for live sports, specifically the NFL:

  • Regular Season NFL games made up 93 of the top 100 broadcast programs in 2023 
  • Super Bowl LVIII became the most-viewed event since the moon landing (and second-most watched TV event in American history) with 123.7 million viewers across CBS, Nickelodeon, Univision, and streaming on Paramount+ and NFL digital platforms.
  • Thanksgiving’s games in 2023 also broke records. The total unduplicated audience across all three games was 133 million, the second-highest Thanksgiving Day total audience on record, behind only 2022.

“When it comes to sports, there’s an urgency in watching it live,” says Reynolds. “With entertainment content, you can stream programming whenever. But with sports, fans want to be in the moment and not see spoilers on social media later, and I think that’s why the NFL’s popularity has just exploded over the years.”

And it’s not just the NFL seeing a boost in live audiences.

The NCAA Basketball tournament, also known as March Madness, has overcome historic lows in 2023 to rebound significantly in 2024 and set new records

The 2022 Olympics in Beijing also saw record-low viewership, but like March Madness, it is poised for a rebound in 2024 too. 

“COVID did a number on a lot of things, including live sports, and The Olympics have been on a downward trajectory,” says Reynolds. “But the X factor is where the games take place. This year, we’re back to normal, and Paris has a certain charm that will add some intrigue from a general audience.”

The Award Goes To … Live Events

Thanks in part to the relative scarcity of live content in an era of on-demand viewing options, award shows are also experiencing historic viewership numbers.

Like the Olympics, The Oscars have been on a downward trajectory too,” notes Reynolds. “But again, there’s renewed interest this year with the big blockbusters and cultural moments associated with ‘Barbenheimer.’ With a 5% viewership increase from last year, it’s very encouraging to see the Oscars return the way they did.”

This Just In … Local News Dominates National News 

Amid a sea of on-demand streaming programming available to watch anytime and anywhere, there is one form of content that audiences can’t get anywhere else: their local news. 

The appeal of local news lies in the stations’ ability to connect to local communities, offering content that resonates deeply with viewers and familiarity with friendly faces among local newscasters, journalists, sports reporters, and meteorologists. 

“In TEGNA markets, the average local news delivery outpaces the combined delivery of all three major TV news networks: CNN, MSNBC, and FOX,” says Reynolds. “What does that tell you? It says people are watching the local news in their local markets because it’s content they can’t get anywhere else.” 

And it’s content that they trust. TVB’s Media Comparison Study found that local broadcast news stations are the most trusted channels for informing Americans about what’s happening in their communities.

Why Live Audiences Appeal to Advertisers

What does the resurgence in broadcast viewership mean for advertising? Live events offer a massive audience to reach and a unique opportunity for brands to become engrained in cultural moments that generate brand awareness and boost sales through broadcast advertising

“Every live audience is something special, and it’s not just the live audience that’s special. It’s the fact that it’s a mass audience,” says Reynolds. “People gather at watch parties for top-tier and big-ticket events like the Super Bowl, the Oscars, and the Grammys. These mass events have a cultural buzz that demands viewing in real-time, especially if you’re going to see it first thing in the news the next day.” 

For advertisers, this is a real opportunity to take advantage of these cultural touchpoints and help generate those water cooler moments and discussions that extend beyond the event itself. Just think about all the conversations about the Super Bowl ads the day after the big event, for example. 

In addition, live audiences tend to be more engaged and cannot fast-forward commercials. This captive audience presents advertisers with a platform to showcase their brands amidst the excitement of live broadcasts, fostering brand awareness and engagement. 

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Advertising with Team TEGNA

Team TEGNA knows the power of cross-platform ad campaigns that combine TV, OTT/CTV streaming, and digital assets, and we’re ready to jump-start your campaign today. With 64 broadcast stations in 51 markets nationwide, TEGNA has a unique ability to reach drivers across Broadcast, OTT Streaming, and digital solutions. Contact us today to see how we can accelerate your advertising.

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