Friday, April 3, 2020

Is NBC Taking a Gamble with ‘Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist’?

With the streaming wars at a fever pitch, one of the oldest networks is trying to get creative with their new comedy ‘Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist’ and hoping it can lure internet viewers back to broadcast television

To do the selling, NBC has made a gamble of a different kind. The actual first-season run of the show kicked off this past Sunday, when the network broadcast its second episode. But the pilot itself aired in early January, after which the Peacock (not to be confused with upcoming streaming service Peacock!) made it available for free on a slew of platforms. For the last six weeks, you could find it on YouTube, which currently hosts the second episode in full. You could find it on Facebook. You could even find it on Spotify, a platform in keeping with Zoey’s themes, but hardly a typical entry point for television premieres. In recent years, it’s become common for series to build buzz online during, or even after, their initial debut on linear TV. With Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist, NBC is trying to reverse that process.

It’s trying to figure out, what’s the best way to get this show exposed to the audience that will talk about it. For Zoey’s, that target audience is primarily younger women—precisely the demographic that came to love co-star Lauren Graham through Gilmore Girls’ second life on Netflix and who’ve grown accustomed to finding new favorites via Zoey’s various digital distribution channels, not its original home.

The open question is whether NBC’s unorthodox release strategy will afford Zoey’s the time to navigate these road bumps on its own terms. In hard Nielsen ratings, at least, NBC has yet to convert digital dilettantes into devoted appointment viewers. The premiere, or “preview,” back in January earned 2.7 million viewers and a 0.6 rating in the 18 to 49 demographic; rather than snowballing in the intervening month and change, Sunday’s episode dipped slightly to 2 million and a 0.4. The announcement came packaged with the caveats and spin that accompany lots of ratings releases these days: Zoey’s is NBC’s “top digital launch” to date; a 0.4 is actually the highest rating for its time slot on the network since May, excluding sports and the Golden Globes. Still, it seems clear that while the publicity push behind Zoey’s might have raised awareness, it hasn’t translated into the specific kind of awareness NBC can easily monetize, at least for now.

Where Zoey’s gambit can possibly be called a success is in finding viewers where they already are, not in enticing them back to old habits they’re unlikely to relearn. 

About as many people watched the full pilot on YouTube as on the network itself—between 3.5 and 4 million, a small but meaningful portion of the 42 million users who sampled the episode for an average of eight minutes each. (As of this rating, the second episode is up to almost 3 million views and counting.) And at a time when ratings carry less objective currency than ever, an online footprint can make a real difference to a show’s long-term value and longevity.

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