If you’re not networking, you’re not working

Watch a TV programme, join a club

Many years ago, I lived in New York, studying at NYU for an MBA, and working briefly.  It was a terrible time for the city.  The murder rate peaked at a rate 5 times what it is  now, and the Mayor was regarded as so rubbish that the New York Post appealed to him to Do Something.  But I loved being there.  The films Wall Street and Working Girl had sold Manhattan as the capital of capitalism, and When Harry Met Sally the next year made New York feel funny and romantic. Studying near Wall Street and living in Sullivan Street I felt that I really WAS having what they were having.   I can barely remember anything about the coursework, but CAN remember the key phrase the MBA students were taught:  If you’re not networking, you’re not working.

We didn't have neighbours, we had witnesses

New York in 1990. We didn’t have neighbours, we had witnesses


Business, we were told was all about contacts, leads and who you knew.

So I put this into action. Working through the New York University Alumni (former students) Directory my eyes were drawn to an alum who was working at CBS, the national TV network headquartered in the Black Rock building on West 52nd  Street.  So I phoned the number, only to be told that he no longer worked there.  But the friendly person asked me why I had called?  Oh, I’m doing an MBA at NYU, and since he had recently graduated, I hoped he could tell me about his work.  Oh actually, the man said, I also went to NYU, so why don’t you come in and we can talk.

So I went in, and after the chat was told that as luck would have it, there was a part-time job going down the corridor, and I should speak to Gloria.  And that’s how I got my first job in TV – working obscure contacts.  And more than 20 years later, I’m showing a somewhat pathetic progress in life by still working as a TV audience person.

(my years in New York also coincided with a personal relationship that was so suffocating and riven by jealousy (hers) that it limited my chance to make any friends from the University… the absolute opposite of what the networking advice recommended….  Then again, you should have seen her.  My goodness.)

Anyway, you are probably asking:

What has all this got to do with television audiences, the subject of this blog.

Well, nothing, I just wanted to get nostalgic…

Or rather, EVERYTHING.

One of the most frustrating determinants of audience size for a programme is the channel on which it is aired, and to a lesser extent, the time it is first broadcast.  Some people think this is changing, but it isn’t really.

And it’s about the network effect.  We don’t usually refer to TV channels as networks in the UK. But it’s helpful, because the same rules apply as with other networks.  A network effect is where the value you get from consuming is affected by the number of others who also use it.  So attending a sports event or the theatre is enhanced by the other people.  I’m seeing the band below tomorrow – if there isn’t a decent crowd it’ll be awful. It’s a folk band, in a folk club – the whole genre is named after the sense of ‘people’ gathered together.  Telephones work best when someone is there to answer your call. My favourite blog, The Daily Dish, doesn’t have a comments section, but some of its best features, such as The View From Your Window rely on a critical mass of visitors.  It obviously works with online social networks.

What happens to your earphones while they are stuffed in your pocket

What happens to your earphones while they are stuffed in your pocket

What does it mean for TV programmes?  If a programme is on ITV4 it might get 500,000 viewers.  On Channel 4 it might get 1.5 million.  On BBC1 it would muster 4 million.  The same programme, on channels that everyone can access, and often do.

Why does this happen?  Loads of reasons: an audience that follows the herd, that likes to snuggle in with other viewers, to belong to a group, to commune with others.

They might trust the channels that get the biggest audiences.

Perhaps the bigger the channel, the easier the compromise with other household members.

Perhaps it’s about maximising the chance to talk about the programme the following day, (or to text friends while it’s on).

Channel branding may come into it too (though perhaps as not as much as the marketing people might think…).  Programme promotions may be more effective on bigger channels.  And some viewers stay on a channel after a programme has finished..

It may be more prominent in listings magazines or on the EPG.  And the scheduling of the programme to a specific time (even if you choose to time-shift it) also creates a priming effect on your expectations of who it is aimed at and how many (akin to the size of a venue for a concert).

These are all network effects.  And it’s the reason why programmes benefit from being scheduled on a channel, for a critical mass of viewers, who are part of a club.  Rather than being ‘published’ by someone on a ‘when you can be arsed to watch’ basis.

Meet new people... Go ON

Meet new people… Go ON

And it’s as true for TV programmes as it is for getting a decent job.  A network effect can really make a difference…



Keston Cobblers Club: For Words.  It’s a club.  What we used to call a network

Say you’re proud, it lasts for a while and you won’t even have to go out of the house


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