ABC Network Sample from Fall 2009 course by BlakeLee Clay-McBee, Addi DiSesa, J.P. Garofalo & Kristen LaPlante
- 1 Industrial Analysis
- 2 Textual Analysis
- 3 Audience and Online Analysis
- 4 References
The history of the American Broadcasting Company began, in a manner similar to other television networks, with radio. In 1926, the Radio Corporation of America (RCA) founded the National Broadcasting Company (NBC), which expanded so quickly that it soon had an excess of affiliates in several cities. In order to separate its two programs, NBC created the Red and the Blue Networks. However, in 1941 the Federal Communications Commission announced that NBC would have to forfeit its budding network monopoly. Thus, NBC sold its Blue Network for $8 million to Edward Noble, the owner of Life Savers candy. Shortly thereafter, NBC Blue became the American Broadcasting Company, known almost exclusively today as ABC.
This new company was the smallest of the radio networks from its conception, but gained substantial listenership in the late 1940’s by pre-recording its programs. Attracted to the scheduling freedoms of pre-recording, many stars, most notably Bing Crosby, moved to ABC.
At the time, ABC was a relatively small network when compared to CBS and NBC, making its foray into the field of television more difficult than anticipated. In the late 1940’s and early 1950’s, ABC flirted with bankruptcy until, in 1951, Leonard Goldenson, the Head of United Paramount Theatres (UPT), bought the struggling network for $25 million. Even with the new additional capital, live broadcasting was still too expensive for ABC. A move to filmed programs in conjunction with Walt Disney and the Warner Brothers appeared as a solution to ABC’s budgetary problems. Soon, ABC, with its new partners, made hits such as Disneyland and Maverick, two programs that brought in revenue through advertising. ABC then solidified itself as the family-friendly network with now iconic children’s television such as The Flintstones and the aforementioned programs.
Throughout the late 1960’s and into the early 1980’s, ABC continued to emerge in the world of television as one of the “Big Three” networks along with NBC and CBS. The network pioneered sitcoms that became instant hits, such as The Brady Bunch, Bewitched, Happy Days, Taxi, and Charlie’s Angels in the 1960’s and 1970’s, making ABC the number one television network. Despite these successes, ABC still lagged behind its competing networks in its news division. It was not until the 1980’s with the creation of 20/20 and Nightline that ABC became a competitor in this area. With the successes of its fresh news shows, ABC crowned its era of television dominance as the Golden Age.
By 1986, Goldenson had sold ABC to Capital Cities Communications for $5.5 billion, leading to massive changes in the networks operation. Saturday morning cartoon shows became passé along with many of the networks acclaimed mini-series. ABC fell behind in the network ratings, managing to lay claim to only a few hit series, most notably Full House, Family Matters, and TGIF. The year 1996 brought another sea change for ABC as the Walt Disney Corporation paid $18 billion for the network and placed it under the control of the larger company ABC, Incorporated. Since that time, the ABC Television Network has seen a resurgence in its ratings thanks to new series such as Who Wants to be a Millionaire?, Lost, Desperate Housewives, and Grey’s Anatomy.
Today, the ABC network contains three major divisions: ABC Daytime, ABC Entertainment Group, and ABC News. ABC Television Network has over 220 local affiliates nationwide and owns 10 local stations in major cities across the country including New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles, among others. ABC Daytime owns four, one-hour programs, each of which runs five days a week. These include The View, General Hospital, One Life to Live, and All My Children. Each year, these four shows generate 1,000 hours of programming on ABC Daytime.
The ABC News division of the ABC Television Network owns signature daily programs such as Good Morning America, World News Tonight (with Charles Gibson), and, as aforementioned, weekly programs 20/20, Primetime, and This Week (with George Stephanopoulos).
The ABC Entertainment Group is a relatively new division, announced to the public in January of 2009 as a merger between ABC Studios and ABC Entertainment. These two entities now coordinate under the ABC Entertainment Group label, led by group president Stephen McPherson. The merger has cleared any doubt that Disney Corporation’s television studio is committed to producing its own programs for ABC, instead of for its competitors. The Entertainment Group contains six major management areas: Business Affairs, Business Development, Casting, Program Planning, Scheduling, and Distribution. Both ABC Entertainment and ABC Studios combined on developmental and programming roles, but they maintain separate creative teams.
ABC’s prime time and late night program selection and scheduling responsibilities belong to the Entertainment sector. Scripted comedies and dramas, reality series, network specials, movies, and mini-series all fall under the realm of this group as well. The Studios group has pioneered hit series such as Lost, Grey’s Anatomy, and Desperate Housewives.
ABC, Inc. operates several additional cable channels, including ABC Family, SoapNet, Disney Channel, and Toon Disney. The company also has ownership positions in ESPN and affiliated services. Other affiliates include: Lifetime Entertainment Services, which contains Lifetime Television for Women, Lifetime Movie Network, and Lifetime Real Women, A&E Network, The History Channel, The Biography Channel, E! Entertainment Television, and Style. Because each of these channels operates under the same ownership, they are able to form beneficial partnerships.
The most notable partnership is between ESPN and the ABC Television Network. ABC formerly operated ABC Sports in order to cover sports programming, but began to integrate with ESPN in 2003 when George Bodenheimer became president of both ABC Sports and ESPN. The newly dubbed “ESPN on ABC” began full integration in the fall of 2006 in time for the start of the College Football season. Since that time, all traces of ABC Sports have disappeared, save for the ABC watermark in the corner of the screen. All “ESPN on ABC” sports programming uses ESPN graphics, announcers, music, scoreboards, et cetera. Now, ABC Sports’ most prominent broadcast, Monday Night Football, airs on ESPN.
Another such partnership exists between ABC network and the Disney Channel. ABC Kids, formerly One Saturday Morning, is a four-hour block on Saturday mornings featuring mostly Disney Channel original programming reruns. Only Power Rangers can claim independence from the other shows on ABC Kids in that it is not a Disney Channel rerun. Ultimately, partnerships such as these have helped ABC reach many different demographics on different days of the week.
Although ABC and its many affiliates control several different genres, as the above, the broadcasting schedule and preparation is not in any way random or disorganized. The network carefully evaluates the merits of each show that it airs, considering what aspects of a program make it suitable for sustained viewership. The first item the network masters is flow.
Saturday morning cartoons, Saturday and Sunday sports, and weekday soap operas aim to create programming that is continuous over several shows. ABC Kids, on Saturday mornings, runs from 9:00 a.m. until 12:30 p.m., airing eight Disney Channel favorites including the enormously popular Hannah Montana and The Suite Life of Zach and Cody. ABC Sports employs a similar rationale, airing College Football Countdown and College Football games from 11:00 a.m. through the evening, depending on the times that games end. On Sundays, ABC Sports airs NASCAR all day, beginning at 1:30 p.m. with NASCAR Countdown and race coverage ending at 8:00 p.m. when regular prime time programming begins. Finally, weekday soap operas run back-to-back-to-back from 1:00 p.m. until 4:00 p.m.
While ABC calculates how much of one style of programming to air, it is also conscious of the “lead-ins” that come on the air before its featured shows. During the week, ABC’s most popular show, Grey’s Anatomy, leads into Private Practice, a spin-off of the popular medical drama. The former show’s exceptional ratings are intended to increase the latter show’s struggling ratings numbers while also maintaining the flow of similar programming airing back-to-back.
The programming that ABC airs generally appeals to all gender demographics at different points of each week. On Saturday mornings, ABC appeals to school-aged children with ABC Kids programming. Sunday nights on ABC have become family-friendly with shows like America’s Funniest Home Videos, Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, and transitioning to the more adult oriented Desperate Housewives at 9:30 p.m. followed by Brothers and Sisters.
The network appeals to women in general during weekdays through The View and the previously mentioned soap operas throughout the day. During prime time, The Forgotten and shows such as Desperate Housewives, Grey’s Anatomy, and Dancing with the Stars lure women viewers to ABC. On the contrary, men tend to watch extended weekend sports coverage that ABC offers rather than some of the more effeminate shows that women are watching.
Finally, older and more subdued audiences, families in general, watch news on ABC. Nightline and 20/20 appeal to these family-oriented viewers who also tune in to the network’s drama shows following the news. ABC’s drama and action shows still hold an appeal with family audiences.
In sum, ABC is a complicated, all-encompassing network that has a rich history dating back to television’s earliest days. From an offshoot of NBC, ABC has become one of the premiere stations in the United States and in television history. To this day, ABC continues to be at the forefront of television innovation under the ownership of the Walt Disney Corporation.
Grey's Anatomy (2005-present)
Grey’s Anatomy is a highly serialized prime time medical drama aired on ABC and produced by ABC Studios. Premiering as a mid-season replacement in early 2005, Grey’s Anatomy has been one of ABC’s biggest hits over its first six seasons.
The series is thought of as appealing mostly to female viewers due to the focus on relationships among the hospital staff and the intimate portrayal of characters. Viewers especially come to understand the stories through title character Meredith Grey’s voice-over narration that typically begins and ends each episode. The show effectively captures the female audience through the emotional pull of feeling connected to the regular characters and becoming invested in their relationships. Additionally, each week generally includes episodic plots of specific patients. It is often these patients that viewers hardly know whom they connect to the most. Even men can emotionally connect to the stories as one scholar notes, “Grey’s Anatomy has really opened the floodgates.” As a network, a show like Grey’s Anatomy is successful for ABC because the through large hospital staff and wide variety of guest stars, a very broad audience can be attracted to the show and find someone with whom they can empathize. Drama-packed promos, long-term story arcs, and occasional cliffhangers also keep the audience coming back for more.
The diverse cast of characters also provides us with many different cultural representations. The cast is interracial, and some of the most powerful and respected characters are black in the case of Chief of Surgery Richard Webber, brilliant cardiologist Preston Burke, and resident surgeon Miranda Bailey. Also, Asian character Christina Yang is portrayed as the most talented intern in the first few seasons. It has been argued that by presenting non-white characters without overtly raising questions about race makes Grey’s Anatomy color-conscious and racially palatable, contributing to its success. Creator Shonda Rhimes is a black woman, which is unusual especially for a show that is not a “black show.” She has said that her goal in casting is to judge solely based on talent and the race of the most talented actor becomes the race of the character written into the show. That being said, she has also expressed her determination not to perpetuate negative black stereotypes and thus black drug addicts, prostitutes, pimps, and criminals will not be brought in as patients to Seattle Grace Hospital.
Homosexual representation is also an issue on Grey’s Anatomy as Dr. Han was introduced in the 2007-2008 season, as lesbian character Erica Hahn was hired an attending cardiac surgeon and attending surgeon Callie Torres began to question her own sexuality. The two had a relationship until Hahn was fed up with Callie’s lesbian insecurities and she left the hospital. A pediatric surgeon, Arizona Robbins, was introduced and soon became a new girlfriend for Callie. The contrast between Erica and Arizona could not be more apparent. Dr. Hahn was very powerful, always sure of herself, somewhat abrasive and portrayed as very masculine. Though still presented as a great doctor, Arizona is sweet, sympathetic, bubbly, at times unsure of herself—the opposite of Hahn—and perhaps and more “palatable” lesbian. As a major network, ABC deals with the important issue of Callie’s sexual orientation, including her family’s adverse reaction to the news, but by switching from Hahn to Arizona ABC is treading lightly into the controversial territory in order to keep a broad audience watching.
In terms of scheduling, ABC has made a succession of calculated scheduling decisions seeking to effectively use Grey’s Anatomy to the greatest advantage for the network. As a mid-season replacement, the program filled a place in the Sunday night prime-time lineup and was met with success. In season 2, ABC made the decision to give Grey’s a shot at the coveted lead-out time slot after the Super Bowl in 2006, and Grey’s captured 38.1 million viewers--a huge success. In light of this, ABC makes the move from its original time slot on Sunday nights at 10pm after a Desperate Housewives lead-in to the coveted Thursday night 9 pm airing time. This move pitted Grey’s against CBS’s hit show CSI but did very well in the ratings, particularly in the coveted 18-49 age group, which was great news for ABC and their advertisers.
Grey’s Anatomy has stayed in that time slot for the past four seasons and experienced a ratings drop as a result of the 2007-2008 WGA Strike, as with other highly serialized shows, the long hiatus during the middle of the season created a lull in audience viewing when the show came back on the air. It took some time for the original fan base to find their way back to Seattle Grace Hospital on Thursdays. However, ABC stuck with the scheduling that had worked in the past and so far this season, Grey’s has flourished yet again ranked #4 in the Nielson ratings.
World News with Charles Gibson (2006-present)
The ABC evening news broadcast World News Tonight began in 1978, with Peter Jennings as the longest running anchor from 1983-2005. Currently, the show is called World News with Charles Gibson and it airs at 6:30 p.m. on weeknights, which is typical of the major networks’ evening newscasts. The slight change in name is not trivial as the Tonight was dropped to reflect the network’s overall goals of meeting media demand beyond television. ABC News sees the Internet as a 24-hour news space and updates content throughout the day as well as presenting an afternoon webcast news program. Instead of the traditional ABC watermark throughout the program, the graphic changes to advertise the website as well.
Characterizing host Charles Gibson is an integral part of attracting an audience and also speaks to cultural representation (or lack thereof). In promotion of Gibson’s takeover as anchor ABC calls Gibson “Your Trusted Source,” which conjured images of the popular Peter Jennings who used the tagline “Trust is Earned” in promotions toward the end of his run on the news. In this way, ABC attempted to appeal to former viewers and obviously advertise that news with Gibson was news that could be trusted. As an anchor, Gibson has a deep baritone voice and is old enough to be reassuring to viewers while not sounding dull. His middle-aged whiteness is the unspoken norm that a very broad audience is comfortable watching on the news. Gibson calls upon other reporters to add different voices to the show, though the majority of those different voices are also generally attractive white males. Each one seems as though they could be someone’s father, adding to the notion that Americans should trust these reporters.
In terms of the content itself, there does not seem to be any large bias in the newscast in the vein of the cable news channels because again, ABC is trying to reach a broad audience all across America. However, the program can appeal to the consumer-minded American to keep advertisers happy. For example on the November 3rd newscast, there was an interview with Warren Buffet in which he said he had “100% confidence in the U.S. Economy.” Interestingly, the program began with a segment on problems with Toyota automobile accelerators (with an ad that more coverage will be on Nightline or is available at ABCnews.com), and as we would expect Toyota was not an advertiser but American auto company Ford Motors Company did advertise in this time block. For ABC, it is important to attract the consumer-minded individual to the newscast as the advertisements, as well as the content of the show, aim to attract upper-middle class men and women who have the income to buy healthier products or those that are not truly necessary. For example, “Total” and “Cheerios” are two cereal brands that serve as healthful, yet more expensive, alternatives to similar cereals. Further, the familiarity of these brands easily attracts consumers almost regardless of their price. As aforementioned, presumably white men and women narrated and acted in each of the 16 adds aired during this 30-minute segment. The non-threatening family-oriented approach of the advertisements fits seamlessly into ABC’s goal of being a family network.
The show in general is one that does not require one’s utmost attention. Although many families likely watch the news while doing little else, World News with Charles Gibson uses a slow pace and relatively simplistic graphics to easily illustrate the show’s content. A person making dinner, reading a magazine, or generally engaging in another aspect of home life could watch World News at the same time without missing much of the content of either the show or other tasks.
Audience and Online Analysis
ABC has utilized the Internet to invite viewers into the network’s community. At the top of the ABC.com homepage, the network extends the invitation to join the network to all who stumble upon the website. Navigating away from the homepage does not preclude browsers from the offer to become a part of ABC, as the ability to “Join” or “Sign In” is present on each new page. Whether one stands to gain tangible benefits from joining the network’s online community is certainly in the eye of the beholder. For one, a “member” of the website can receive emails from ABC with information about the stars of the network’s various shows as well as upcoming episodes. In addition, ABC offers an electronic newsletter (image below: “Sample Newsletter”) to members with promotional offers such as “sweepstakes, contests, video, and ABC exclusives!” The website advertises “Free Episodes” to viewers who become online members, but, as this report notes, both ABC and Hulu.com offer this feature to members and non-members alike.
ABC.com also features a series of vignettes that offer information about actors on their shows as well as secrets and spoilers about the content of these shows. Visitors and members of the website can click any image on the entire page and find themselves on a new, equally over-stimulating page. While the top of the homepage is constantly changing, advertising various shows, show websites, the shows’ broadcast times, and a screenshot from each of the advertised shows, the bottom of the homepage highlights the aforementioned actor and character extras. In sum, there is little about ABC.com that does not offer access to viewing options and show websites at the click of the mouse.
ABC Fan Forum
ABC offers a discussion board for their top rated shows which acts as an incentive for avid and opinionated viewers to visit ABC.com in order to air their views on the website. ABC has several very active discussion boards which, beside the basic structural form seem to be unmediated. This open forum style lends itself to the audience’s open candor on the various episodes and specific story lines of the ABC television shows. The uninhibited nature of audience member’s comments creates an interesting look into the minds of the viewers and how they consume the individual shows.
Grey's Anatomy Fan Forum on ABC.com
The Grey’s anatomy internet forum, located on ABC.com allows fans to comment on both weekly episodes and the individual relationships which the characters have formed throughout the shows six seasons. On the discussion for the latest episode “Holidaze” which incorporated Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New years into one episode, the last before a two month hiatus. The response to this episode varies from those who approve to those who found major fault in everything from the writing to the acting.
The main criticism which viewers had with “Holidaze” was expressed in dissatisfaction with the production staff, specifically the show’s creator and executive producer Shonda Rhimes. “Folks gushed over the show… so much that she now has an ego so large that it won’t fin though the doorway. Shonda thinks she is the Oprah of prime time TB and she can do no wrong.”The majority of comments made on the episodes feed were complaints of varying natures about the viewers discontent with the episodes story line and content. Many viewers called for Shonda to rethink various aspects of the show. The recently increased cast size, new relationships between some of the characters and the lack of in-depth medical cases all make the laundry list. Fans were quick to talk about their dislike of the episode “Holidaze” pointing out the enormous amount of content compiled into one 40minute episode. “That episode was on meth. They shoved like, 12 years of storyline into like, 40 minutes.”
Other Grey's Anatomy Online Fan Forums
Continuing the theme of negative commentary several other websites house popular discussions for the web based fandom of Grey’s anatomy. The site Greysanatomyinsider.com is an extremely moderated website which allows for limited responses to each episode. Although the same grievance from fans appears on this site as well, the methodical almost stark critique differs greatly from the open forum approach of the ABC.com board. The Livejournal community Grey’s Anatomy member’s also share similar views as the other sites yet within this forum each commentator has a more pronounced ship (relationship) as opposed to just a favorite character. Users are defined by their ship, interacting with each other in a kinder more intellectual way. “Personally, I think that the writing on Grey’s gets progressively worse. But I remember that I also thought/said that at the beginning of last season and then it got really good towards the end. So maybe there’s still hope.” The comments function as more of a discussion between people whom act as though they are acquainted in some way as opposed to comments made by strangers who will never meet.
ABC makes all of their shows accessible through an online store advertised on the websites for the individual shows as well as on the main ABC.com website. Fans of particular shows can follow a simple progression of links that lead them to online stores that offer a wide variety of merchandise. The online store features an “Item of the Week,” a list of “Best Sellers,” a merchandise newsletter subscription menu, and several drop-down menus offer different strategies for purchasing ABC items. Fans can buy books, compact discs, DVDs, jewelry, and countless types of clothing that advertize their favorite shows. Some merchandise is replica clothing and items featured on the shows and others boast various representations of the shows. ABC has made such a variety of merchandise available that viewers can enjoy their favorite shows in almost every aspect of their daily lives that occur outside of these shows, such as show themed coffee mugs.
ABC's Integration with the World Wide Web
ABC Full Episode Player
ABC has been on the front end of several online advances in the television industry. In response to digital video recording devices and piracy issues, in late Spring 2006 ABC launched an innovative new approach to reaching viewers through their website. Episodes of several of the most popular shows, including Lost and Desperate Housewives, were offered online for free viewing, supported by limited advertising. Given the success of these limited number of shows, in the Fall 2006 season, ABC offered even more of their shows online. In the imitation nature of television, the other networks soon followed ABC's cue and many cable channels now offer free episodes online. In the online format there are advertisements so that the networks can still profit, but the ads are much more limited than those you would see on a broadcast.
ABC.com’s full episode player has looked for ways to improve since its inception. It has begun to offer many programs in HD streaming online for a better quality experience. Also while it is typical to keep episodes available for four weeks from their original airing date, they offer full seasons or full series of a limited number of shows, such as nearly every episode of Lost. Additionally, while their advertisement breaks require viewers to click a button to continue the show, they have now developed user preferences that allow registered users the opportunity to change this feature.
Another very recent feature development is “ABC Social: Episode Commentary.” This feature first appeared on November 7, 2009 during an episode of V. “ABC Social” adds comments from producers, viewers, and advertisers as an active/live scrolling sidebar on the side of the episode player. The feature gives viewers an opportunity to hear tidbits about the show from producers and also allows fans to comment. Each viewer can choose to see only one or the other or both. Additionally, ABC will sell the opportunity for advertisers to add commentary. They hope this option will attract advertisers, particularly to reality shows such as Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, which are laden with product placement.
ABC on Hulu
An interesting recent development happened in the spring of 2009 when ABC/Disney decided to join NBC and Fox Network as a controlling partner in one of the top video sites on the internet, Hulu. Previous to this time, ABC programming was only legally available on its own website, but ABC now streams most of its programs on Hulu as well. With a 28% stake in the joint venture, the network exchanged $25 million in advertising credit for Hulu to use during ABC programming. ABC views the venture as a way to expand their audience beyond the traditionally loyal viewers who go to ABC.com to watch episodes. In October 2009, Hulu experienced its biggest jump in viewership in a single month, up 47% from September. Not so coincidentally, October was the first full month of ABC shows being offered on Hulu.
Some recent controversy has occurred over discussions on whether Hulu should remain a free site for anyone to view new programming. Hulu has proposed developing subscription tiers, which they are expected to test beginning in the coming year. There have also been early discussions with cable operators who fear that sites like Hulu will discourage people from purchasing cable subscriptions. There is a possibility that Hulu would be available only to viewers who could prove they also pay for cable in their homes, essentially making Hulu an additional cable service. Disney/ABC takes exception to this proposed plan. They would like to continue free access to their shows online, but feel that if the cable addition plan were put into effect, they should receive some of the proceeds.
Overall, online viewing for ABC programming is readily available and the network seems committed to promoting continued access to the online community. This is consistent with the overarching network goal of reaching the broadest audience possible and keeping them coming back for more.
The ABC.com homepage does not contain any advertising that is outside the realm of ABC programming. The individual show websites, however, have advertisements at the top of the page for outside organizations, services, or products. With each visit to the page—or a depression of the “Refresh” button on one’s web-browser—the advertisement changes. Also, as each show’s website has a video window that automatically plays when the site is visited, ads run in the window before the show’s content or whatever the clip the website intends to show runs. While it is difficult to ascertain the individual strategies of which advertisements appear on which show’s websites—assuming that different types of ads appear on different show’s websites—it is likely that ABC and its sponsors made these decisions carefully. Domestic product advertisements seem to appear more often on show websites such as Find My Family, whereas technology ads appear more often websites for shows such as Lost. As mentioned above, ABC aims to be the family network and therefore, the decisions of what to advertise in which space seem to have been carefully considered.
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