Why don't broadcasters fill dead hours with CURRENT repeats of popular programs?

If the current versions of “CSI”, “Lost” or “Desperate Housewives” were repeated at 2 - 5 AM it would get more viewers than a just a test pattern, and some people would use these repeats to record the show.

Maybe they cold even do 2-3 of the current season in a row to let people catch up who missed an episode.

What’s the downside to this strategy?

I assume they have to pay the studio per airing per episode, so if there aren’t going to be enough viewers, they can’t charge a high rate for the commercial slots and they would make a loss on that segment.

I’m assuming (perhaps foolishly) that the cost to repeat in the wee or off prime hours would be adjusted to take into account the reduced ad revenue. If you have a copy of a popular show, and you can increase your overall ad revenue by $ 500,000 annually with off prime time repeats, why wouldn’t the popular show distributor adjust the show cost for off prime showing to take this marginal revenue into account so everyone could make money?

Just a guess, but if people knew it would be on more often, they might not make a point to catch the show on its first air date. This might lead to fewer viewers for the first airing, which would mean fewer people seeing ads, which would mean companies not wanting to spend money on commercials. I’m not saying it makes sense, but TV execs have never struck me as the brightest people around, and they certainly aren’t concerned with the public’s best interest if it doesn’t benefit the bottom line.

I’d also be happy if they dug up some of those shows never seen again, like Liquid Television. Why have Gilligan’s Island in its 24th loop when there’s other stuff collecting dust.

The other night I happened to have my TV on at 2:30 a.m. and was treated to something called “NBC ALL NIGHT” which was a rerun of that evening’s Leno and Conan.

I’m not sure if they do, but even if so, there may not be a proportional relationship between the amount by which the studio/distributor is willing to discount and the amount by which the advertising revenue drops during those hours. Of course the advertising revenue is somewhat dependent on the popularity of the material being shown, so arguably, it might increase to a workable level if something interesting was shown.
But as Dignan says, this might dilute the profitability of the prime slots.

Whatever the case, I think we can be fairly confident that the reason the test card is up there is one of economics of this general kind, and that it isn’t just because it hasn’t occurred to them to show repeats at that time.

You’ve answered our own question. Watching a TV show and fast forwarding through the ads is worth nothing to advertisers. Since the “live” audience is tiny at three in the morning, popular programs aren’t shown.

Just for my curiosity’s sake, does anyone actually still see a test pattern, ever? AFAIK every channel in my area broadcasts 24/7, although the infomercials and other fare common in the small hours are little better than test patterns.

Does any major network actually still run a test pattern at night? I don’t think I’ve seen a “This concludes our broadcasting day” message in about twenty years.

There are several factors involved here.

First, some ABC stations aren’t owned by ABC, but are affiliates owned by other companies. The overnight daypart may be controlled by the station’s owner, not by ABC. Who controls what daypart is spelled out in the affiliate’s contract with the network and penalties apply for violating any part of that.

Second, overnights are lucrative for affiliates because they can sell infomercial and commercial time without cutting into other programming and keep the money. Most affiliates are loath to give up that time and would be disinclined to show current hits that earn them no revenue.

Third, since Tivo and most VCRs allow you to watch one channel while recording another, there’s really no incentive for local stations to have a special airing just for recording. (I know that recording DVD machines don’t let you do this, but I don’t think they’re that common yet.) This would have the side effect of alienating possible sponsors for an overnight showing.

Fourth, ABC makes its programming available for the video iPod at two bucks a pop. ABC does not wish to cut into that revenue stream.

Fifth, what with “on demand” becoming popular with cable subscribers, there would be unlimited viewings of “Desperate Housewives” or “Lost”, pretty much when the viewer wants it, defeating the purpose of having a special showing.

Finally, there would be additional marketing costs associated with a special “taping” showing. Ads would have to be produced and run, costing money and cutting into revenue generated by outside advertisers.

That’s the master’s thesis version. The undergraduate version is: Neither ABC nor an affiliate station is going to do anything that costs them money.


And one more, although it’s a small one: frequent repeated showings of a current program dilutes the market for selling the series in the future for syndicated reruns. I understand that this is what ticked off Keenan Ivory Wayans; when Fox decided to show reruns of the current season of “In Living Color” while new episodes were still being shown (as in, they would show a new episode and a current-season rerun in a single one-hour block), Wayans got pissed. The repeated showings meant that, when the time came to sell the show for its life in reruns, it would be worth a lot less, because so many reruns of the program had already been aired before.

I knew I’d forgotten something.

A corollary to this is the current trend to release relatively new series as DVD box sets. If you keep re-broadcasting new episodes and give people the opportunity to record them on their own, the market for these sets is much smaller, which cuts into that revenue stream.

Don’t get me wrong. Ten years ago, this would’ve been a hell of an idea as most people used VCRs to tape shows, commercials and all. But the advent of new technologies and new distribution systems means greater access to new shows with fewer (if any) commercials, forcing networks and production companies to find revenue elsewhere. The more chances you give people to see (and record) new episodes, the less incentive they have to buy these same products, hurting the networks’ and production companies’ bottom lines. And the money to make these shows has to come from somewhere.

(And before anyone brings up the Pit thread about endless repeats of movies, that’s a whole 'nother kettle of fish.)


Some small-market stations still officially “sign off.” I know in Lexington that at least one network affiliate runs live radar over a music bed for 2 or 3 hours.

In the UK, terrestrial channels and their digital/cable counterparts often show 24 hour news or advertising for the channels themselves. As far as I can remember in the past the BBC used to show news from their Ceefax service.

Sometime last year I missed an episode of Lost because my local ABC affiliate had some election coverage on or something and they bumped Lost to a later timeslot on Wednesday night than was advertised in my DVR’s program guide. After I realized that I didn’t tape the episode, I fired off a nasty email to a contact address I found on their website asking them to re-air the episode since I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who trusted the advertised program guide. The response that I got back was basically “tough shit”…they weren’t allowed to rebroadcast the episode because of network rules.

I forgot one other thing.

Production companies license their shows to networks for X number of showings (It used to typically be 3 – one for the first broadcast, one for the current-season rerun and one more for the “classic” episode rerun.) No network is going to waste its license fee running an expensive prime-time program at 3:00 a.m.

Now, when the network also owns the production company, the economics can be different, but as MsRobyn pointed out, the network can’t order an affiliate it doesn’t own to run anything, and a lot of local stations will make more off selling off their overnight times for infomercials than they will running network programming.

In other words, neither the network nor the local station stands to make money by giving you another chance to TiVo a program.