Before tackling the question why is TV scheduling important, we should take a step back. The first question to be answered is: what is a TV channel?
A television channel is a brand. To take just one definition from the many marketing gurus on the web, a brand “is your promise to your customer. It tells them what they can expect from your products and services, and it differentiates your offering from that of your competitors”.
In the case of a channel, you want to create a brand that your target market will come to, and return to. That, in turn, gives you a clearly identified audience that you can sell to potential advertisers, resulting in a profitable business.
So the first and most obvious reason why TV scheduling is important is because you use it to win and retain an audience, taking eyeballs from your competitors and bringing them to your advertisers. Give the audience the content they want to watch and they will stay with you.
For most channels that means curating the right sort of content: usually through acquisition, but perhaps also through commissioning of new programmes. You will identify the right sort of content for your target market, and – here is the art of scheduling – you will show it at times that your audience will appreciate it.
Which all sounds very obvious. The challenge actually lies in managing your resources – your inventory of content. For long this was handled with no more technology than a stack of index cards and a wall planner – and for many this is still enough.
A couple of paragraphs ago I said that you acquire the content you are going to schedule. Whether it is bought in programmes from an external producer or new commissioned programming, it bears a cost. You need to acquire the right amount of content to fill 365 x 24 hours: no more, no less.
Each programme will come with a contract. You might buy, say, all series of Bones from Fox: 245 hours. The contract will stipulate the cost to you, of course, and the number of times you are licenced to show each programme within a given time.
Your contract might say that you can show each episode six times in a year. If you show it five times then you have wasted money; if you show it seven times then an angry contract lawyer will be on the phone and you could face serious penalties.
The art of scheduling, then, is to balance the needs of your audience with careful management of your resources. You need to build audience loyalty through marketing concepts which ensure retention: Monday night is crime night, for example. That is creative TV scheduling.
And at the same time, you need to keep a careful commercial eye on the process. You need to run your content to the limit – but not beyond – of your contracts. Your most expensive content should be planned when it will attract the biggest audience.
Ultimately, TV scheduling is important because it builds your brand. And that, in turn, builds your advertising revenues.