The Audience Payout: Growing and nurturing an enthusiastic fan base loses out to over-monetizing network television

Sometimes networks can be shortsighted in considering their audiences when they’re trying to look at the bigger picture. Business decisions are currently being made that don’t take into account the fan bases that drive the success of their shows – at least not from the fan perspective. Media companies are in the business of making money, and with the popularity of streaming sites like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime continuing to rise while original content on those sites are gaining traction, this might nudge a network into considering its own streaming as a for-pay service while pulling their shows from the popular sites to cash in on the market. The problem is, it’s not a question of when – it’s already happening.

BBC has already pulled shows from Netflix, and the CW is looking to follow suit. Normally the comings and goings of shows available on Netflix streaming don’t cause a fuss, but these two networks provide some pretty popular shows. Doctor Who has been removed from Netflix, which I’m afraid to tell my kids since they recently talked about going back and watching some of the tenth doctor’s episodes. A heavily present network on Netflix, the CW has shows with large fanbases: The Vampire Diaries, iZombie, The 100, The Originals, The Flash, Arrow, and Supernatural.

If you look at the fans that are most active on social media, promoting the shows they love through these outlets and in other ways such as buying merchandise, the fans of the CW especially are known for urging family and friends to watch the shows either as their weekly ritual or as guilty pleasures. These fans attend conventions frequently, an experience which I wrote about earlier this year. The shows are important to them, and across Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, and Tumblr, the shows are discussed in detail and even academically.

With Netflix, getting new people to watch these shows was easy, especially ones like Doctor Who and Supernatural that have been on for over a decade. Having heard a little about them or being pressured by a friend to give a show a try, someone could click Season 1, Episode 1 and be on their way. An entire audience that returns to the shows again and again to rewatch either alone or with friends they’re bringing in as new viewers should be enough to realize how important presence on a popular streaming site is; add to that the potential for growing an audience that wasn’t old enough to get into the show when it first aired, but has since taken an interest in it, and it makes sense to keep this platform available. Being able to stream from the beginning to catch up to the new shows is how many have moved to watching the shows live, helping ratings of shows that may have fallen by the wayside years ago.

Again taking the fans into consideration, the active audience demographics for these shows are on the younger side, and if they or their parents are already paying for cable, internet, and Netflix, does the network think that they will pay long term for an additional streaming service? I’ve left behind shows that I had to pay by the episode for or gone to torrent if I really wanted to watch them. Promising people that something won’t be available for Netflix streaming may boost sales of DVDs temporarily, but DVDs are no longer the viewing platform of choice. NBC, ABC, and CBS following suit would completely complicate the viewing experience with too many subscription services and drastically reduce the amount of households that purchase cable subscriptions, something they already know as CBS is inviting you to try an All Access on demand pass – your first week is free. Asking viewers to buy access to shows through a new site when they’ve been paying to access television and movies for years through a cable company or a site they’re comfortable with is taking a gamble on a sector of the audience that will question just how much they want to watch these shows – you can only act like a crack dealer with television for so long before the audience moves on or finds other ways to access the shows. Plus, there are always other shows available to get hooked on and that can provide meta writers fodder – you’re not the only drug on the street.

Attention spans for media can be short and viewers can be fickle, and if the accessibility to shows become too costly or complicated, the audience will walk – maybe not everyone, but enough to make a network like the CW take pause. Obviously a way to make money for the network instead of connect to the fans that support their shows, this venture is sure to alienate the audience more than connect with them. The number of shows I’m interested in watching has lessened the more restricted the access to them gets. If it’s a pain in the ass to watch, I’ll just write, draw, or read a book and watch something on my DVR. I was a more enthusiastic fan because the shows were available on a streaming platform that I was already using, and with Doctor Who gone and the threat of the CW leaving, I can already feel my interest in watching the shows waning. Who wants to try to get into Arrow if they don’t have time to catch up before past episodes of the show vanish? In the meantime, I’ll be over here waiting for the next seasons of Daredevil and Jessica Jones.

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