In 3Q 2005, NY-based Court TV saw audience numbers jump about 20% for two of its signature primetime factual series: Psychic Detectives and Forensic Files. Better still, in September the cablecaster tied its best monthly primetime Nielsen ratings with adults 18 to 49. This was largely due to the success of those same two series – as well as a third, Trace Evidence – which delivered an average 1.1 household rating, or about 1.17 million total viewers.
A split schedule introduced in mid-July that better identifies Court TV’s original series is behind the improvements. During the day, news and live trial coverage runs under the moniker Court TV News, but after 6 p.m. the cablecaster’s sked becomes ‘Seriously Entertaining,’ airing documentaries, reality fare and factual series.
‘New or potential viewers were confused,’ says Marc Juris, Court TV’s GM of programming and marketing. Explaining the need to clarify the brand, he continues, ‘Our name speaks to one type of experience… They didn’t realize our programming was so significantly different in primetime. They thought they were watching another network.’
To ensure new viewers come from its target – adults 35 to 49 – Court TV is also changing its tone. ‘They want interesting, complex, dimensional stories,’ Juris says, ‘[and] storytelling that’s a bit faster, more visually interesting, and more contemporary in feel.’ It’s also a change Juris is convinced won’t alienate already loyal Court TV viewers. ‘It’s about maintaining your relevance in the media world,’ he adds.
Focus groups conducted by Court TV also revealed an unanticipated benefit of the split schedule strategy. ‘Because we telegraphed that we have Court TV News, [the audience] believes our non-fiction programming is better vetted and more expert than other networks. They just assume it all gets filtered through that same group,’ says Juris.