On Sunday I watched Downton Abbey for the first time. Sure I have seen bits of it but I’ve never consciously sat down to watch it from start to finish. A few of my friends have gushed so much about it, particularly as it was one of the few shows they could watch with their children. So my expectations were to watch a program to make me relax, unwind and ready for the week ahead. To be fair, up until the last ten minutes, I actually found the whole ‘Upstairs Downstairs’ theme quite hilarious and made a comment to my husband about how as an actor, it probably wouldn’t matter much if you were part of the Upstairs or Downstairs cast. And then BOOM! The producers of Downton Abbey decided they would shake things up a little with the rape of Anna Bates; albeit behind closed doors.
If I’m honest, it did shake me up a bit. Largely because I wasn’t expecting it and for the next hour I was unsettled. I’m not likely to watch it again, but then again, I didn’t necessarily find the previous forty minutes interesting either. Shortly after, I went on to twitter to see what people were saying and my goodness, all of hell, and its cohorts, had broken loose upon the producers of Downton Abbey.
From an outsiders viewpoint, I did not get the impression that Downton was losing it’s place in the ratings league. On the contrary, I’ve always been fascinated by just how many people tweet about it and watch it religiously. Most of the people I know watch it because they enjoy period dramas but also because it was one of the few T.V programmes at the moment that was pure escapism. Downton fans don’t watch it to be reminded about the real world. Of course they are aware that sexism and misogyny were rife in that era but if they wanted to see that, they would have been watching Mad Men, The Sopranos or Boardwalk Empire instead.
Entertainment is a business and like any business, you simply can’t put out a good product and expect people to buy. A product, however good, needs to be promoted rightly so that the right people would find it in the right place at the right price. In marketing terms, this is known as the Marketing Mix or the 4 Ps of Marketing’.
It would appear that the producers of Downton have made a business decision to promote their product differently. I think they might have misjudged the profile of their viewers but only time will tell if a sufficient number of people will actually stop watching it as a result of this story line. On the other hand, the producers might just have succeeded in breaking into a fresh pool of viewers who might prefer a grittier version of Downton.
Again in business, it’s essential that you manage the life cycle of your product. The critical point is to judge when your product is getting to the maturity phase as this is when you need to decide whether to improve or modify the product (or service) in order to hold on to your market share. To gain competitive advantage, this modification needs to happen before your product is in the decline phase otherwise it’ll be too late.
I can’t help but remember a long long long time ago in the 80s when ABC sorely misjudged the viewers of Moonlighting, a hit TV series starring Cybill Shepherd and Bruce Willis as Maddie Hayes and David Addison (swoon) respectively. Moonlighting died a sudden death the moment producers turned their love-hate relationship into a romantic relationship. We watched Moonlighting because of the sparks that flew between Maddie & David and the unconsummated sexual tension between them made it all the more exciting to watch. The moment they got together romantically, the sparks died and the ratings plummeted.
Moonlighting only lasted three years, just as long as Downton Abbey has been running. It will be interesting to see if they have dug their own grave or cleverly judged the show as reaching it’s peak; thereby deciding to break into a new market before it hits a decline. Who knows. Nevertheless, I shall watch the unfolding of the next chapter of Downton with bated breath. (forgive the pun)