POV: Tune in, dip out

What does 'short attention span theater' mean?
June 1, 2006

What does ‘short attention span theater’ mean?
With our international audience, which is primarily 18- to 39-year-olds and about 70% female, the majority turns to E! for escapism. With escapism comes the desire to not have to follow a particular subject matter for the course of an hour, so what’s worked best for us is what I refer to as ‘short attention span theater’ – remaining within the same genre, but moving from subject to subject so that viewers can get up and do the dishes and dip in and out of the subject matter on the screen at the same time. With an E! news show, no segment is longer than three or four minutes, and even sit-down interviews do not extend beyond five minutes. Movie magazines cover 10 topics on each two-page spread, so we’re doing the same thing, except on video.

How does your length-of-tune compare to other nets?
It’s shorter on branded networks like E!. People do not tune in for appointment viewing – they tune in because they’re tuning in for the brand. They don’t say: ‘At 8 p.m., I want to watch a True Hollywood Story on this particular star.’ That’s the smaller percentage of our audience. The vast majority tune in for the brand, and branded nets tend to get people tuning in for a shorter period of time. I don’t see E! as being a top 10 general entertainment channel in any market – it’s just not who we are. We’re a niche entertainment channel that serves a rather large niche because our niche is extremely popular.

Which shows have worked best with your audience?
We have found that countdown and clip shows are the gift that keep on giving – those are the highest-rated shows domestically. (For example, 101 Sexiest rates 20% ahead of the net’s total day average, year-to-date.) We do 101 countdown shows, the 50 best countdown show, Sexiest… they’re all different ways of repackaging clips and interviews.

About The Author
Managing editor with realscreen publication, an international print and online magazine that covers the non-fiction film and television industries. Darah is an award-winning journalist who has spent over two decades covering a wide range of issues from real estate and urban development to immigration, politics and human rights, primarily with The Vancouver Sun. Prior to joining realscreen, she was editor of Stream Daily, realscreen's sister publication covering the dynamic global digital video industry. She also served a stint as a war reporter in Afghanistan for television and print, and was a national business blogger with Yahoo Canada.