Timing is everything

Have you ever wondered why your favourite show starts at 8:03 p.m.? Or have you ever been grateful that you were late getting home but still had time to catch the crowning of another American Idol winner at 9:12 p.m.?

You undoubtedly have noticed that TV show start and end times are odd lately. Back in the day it was a live sporting event or awards show that had unpredictable timing causing the rest of the day’s schedule to be late. I have had a few emails from readers commenting about the weird timing of programming nowadays and unlike the past, the lateness these days is strategically planned.

There are a couple reasons why a show “runs late” – but trust me, things are edited for days so it’s not an excuse that there was too much content to make it a 30-minute or 60-minute show. It’s all about ratings – and ratings equals advertising dollars.

Let’s go back to that example of American Idol. The show, especially a finale, is so over-rehearsed it is unlikely it will run late by a significant amount of time. A minute here or there isn’t uncommon, but it is slated to end well after the top of the hour.

When it comes to TV ratings, those are generally measured by the hour. So if American Idol is garnering millions more viewers than the competition at 8 p.m., the network – in this case Fox – will try to spike the numbers for the next hour causing the following show to have an inflated number. And yes, programmers are hoping you stick with that station because you’ve already missed a big chunk of the shows on other networks.

There is the phrase “having a strong lead in” which means a network’s hit show is used to bait people into watching whatever is next. This could be a new show hoping to have a strong premiere or another popular program that will also have increased viewership leading the network to “win the night.” Naturally a TV network wants to have the highest ratings of the night so it might play with start and end times to ensure it keeps an audience.

But like those in the TV biz are quickly realizing, thanks to digital recording devices we can watch anything anytime so ratings are becoming increasingly difficult to measure, anyway.

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