Imagine an off-net lineup that includes proven broadcast dramas like ER, NYPD Blue, Judging Amy
and Law & Order.
It reads like a prime time schedule for a big general-entertainment cable network.
In fact, these shows are among TNT's roster of daytime dramas, aptly labeled "Primetime in the Daytime."
It is fertile ground. An afternoon play of NYPD Blue
or Law & Order
can nab 1.5 million viewers. A fringe airing can attract more like 2 million. Not bad for daytime. In fact, it is better than many other channels' prime time marks.
Thanks to the dramas, TNT's daytime ratings have about doubled in total viewers and every key demos. According to Turner research, TNT delivers more adults 18-49 in daytime than 39 other ad-supported cable nets combined. And "Primetime in the Daytime" props up TNT's nighttime marks as well. Turner says 48% of new prime viewers come from watching TNT during the day.
"There are a lot of smart people at home without good programming to watch," says Steve Koonin, executive vice president and COO for TNT and sister TBS Superstation. "We've learned, if you invest in daytime and promote properly, you can get a heck of a return."
In September 2002, TNT—with its deep pockets and hefty library—moved to stretch its drama brand throughout the day and into night. Research indicated there was an opportunity to grab new viewers during the day.
The network shuffled some older titles, such as ER, into daytime. TNT also started buying up new shows for daytime—shows another network would gladly air in prime. Koonin's mantra is "Buy what you need and use what you buy."
Take Judging Amy. TNT bought the show in 2002 but didn't need it for prime time. Instead, episodes of the off-CBS drama run weekdays at noon and 4 p.m. ET and regularly attract 1 million viewers to each play. Koonin says he'd gladly sell the prime time window to another network if the deal was right.
Another TNT tactic for filling daytime is to share off-net rights with another cable channel. TNT shares The X-Files
with Sci Fi Channel and cop drama NYPD Blue
with Court TV. In both cases, TNT took the non-prime play, a cheaper proposition, and the other channel takes prime. NYPD Blue
averages nearly 1 million viewers. (X-Files
is currently not airing.)
"The strategy used to be spend money on prime and get through the day," says Koonin. Now, he says, TNT makes a "sizable investment" in daytime.
That's not to say prime spending is slackening. The net recently picked up off-net runs of Without a Trace
for a hefty $1.35 million per episode. TNT gets extra mileage out of its big-ticket acquisitions like Law & Order, Charmed
and, come 2006, Without a Trace
by running them in both day and prime time.