Television programmers decide what TV shows air. They also choose when
the shows run. Sounds simple, right? Well, it's not.
Programmers first have to pick the shows that will go on the air. They
have to pick them with several questions in mind. But one overrides all. Can
the schedule and the shows on it attract viewers? And in the case of commercial
television, can the shows attract advertisers who buy commercials?
That is, after all, how commercial television works. Commercial TV programmers
should never lose sight of this, says Isme Bennie. She is director of programming
and acquisitions for two cable specialty channels.
"It is not just sitting there and making a pretty schedule and buying nice
programs," she says. "You are running a business. They have got to be programs
that will attract an audience and attract advertisers and get ratings."
And you cannot let your own tastes sway your decisions, adds Bennie. "If
I did that, that would not be responsible."
After they pick the shows, programmers then decide when to show them. Audiences
change from hour to hour, in both size and kind. The schedule has to reflect
Television audiences also change in size over a year. Audiences are generally
low in the summer as people spend more time outside. Audiences, meanwhile,
are generally at the highest in fall and winter.
Programmers try to get the most viewers during the "sweep" months. During
"sweeps," Nielsen Media Research collects detailed viewing data from sample
homes in every one of the 210 television markets in the U.S.
Television stations and networks use that data to set the price of commercials.
So if a station or network does well during sweeps by attracting a lot of
viewers, it can charge advertisers more money. And success depends largely
on what programmers put on the air.
Television programmers must be able to make good decisions. They must also
be good communicators.
"Once you [have] got a schedule together, you have to be able to communicate
it very effectively to the rest of the organization," says Michele Paris.
She is the program manager for a public television station.
TV programmers work for television stations and national networks. However,
if a station belongs to a national network, it may have little freedom in
its programming decisions.
Television programmers generally work 9 to 5, Monday to Friday, says Paris.
But sometimes they have to work evenings and weekends screening new shows
or looking over proposals from production companies.
Eric Maki is the program manager of a public television station. He says
he spends up to 15 hours a week previewing new shows. He often has to take
work home. And putting together a schedule can occupy one's total attention.
"It is always in the background of your mind," says Maki.
Physical requirements for this career are minimal. It is generally accessible
to people with some kinds of physical disabilities.
Travel in this field is fairly common, as programmers may attend several
trade shows during a year. Television production companies and documentary
filmmakers use those trade shows to pitch their shows and films to programmers.