As the US network landscape continues to change in the face of time-shifted viewing and aggressive VOD expansion, K7’s Los Angeles industry insider reports from the frontline trenches of the fiercely competitive Fall drama season.
- Based on recent polling, 80% of 18-34 year olds could not identify the platforms on which they watch their favourite shows. This indicates that the networks and cable networks are losing the battle of branding — content is now definitely king. Therefore, the natural evolution going into the future will be for networks to brand content around particular creative talents like Shonda Rhimes, whose Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal, and How To Get Away With Murder form the spine of ABC’s Thursday night prime time.
- Based on premieres, the big winners of the US Fall season so far are Fox’s Gotham, CBS’s Scorpion, and ABC’s How To Get Away With Murder, each attracting significant audiences. Murder is the season’s top new show in same-night adults 18-49 rating retaining all of its Scandal lead-in and building on it in total viewers (drawing 14.34 million). ABC’s line up of Shonda Rhimes-produced shows is drawing millions of female viewers.
The natural evolution will be for networks to brand content around particular creative talents.
- Networks are discovering that limited series are having trouble picking up audiences once they’ve returned from hiatus. Short form shows that delivered strong ratings when they debuted in 2013, such as The Following, Under the Dome and Sleepy Hollow — have not performed nearly as well when they returned in 2014 after being off the air for approximately 9 months. Interestingly, cable networks fare better in rebuilding viewer interest for limited series by running previous episodes in the days leading up to their return, creating a drum beat rhythm that draws audiences in, rather than doing what the broadcast networks have done, which is to simply replay the previous season’s finale a week before the show returns to air.
- Diversity is increasingly driving what works on American TV. ABC’s Black-ish, the first broadcast network comedy featuring an African-American family since The Bernie Mac Show, and How to Get Away With Murder gained immediate traction with audiences. Both feature minority casts and are unlike anything else on television. We predict that this “quality plus originality plus diversity” formula will also work for The CW’s Hispanic dramedy, Jane the Virgin, which has generated some of the season’s most positive reviews. Hispanics, African-Americans and Asian-Americans currently make up 41% of adults 18-49 living in homes that have TV sets, according to Nielsen. Needless to say, Hollywood will be looking for more of this type of programming.
- Following a more than 1,000% spike in the number of scripted series produced exclusively for pay and basic cable since 1999, there are growing concerns about the unwelcome consequences of so much capital chasing talent, viewers and, most important, off-network profits. At a time when every aspect of the traditional television business is in a huge shift, some industry experts project that a decrease in content volume is inevitable. Broadcast and cable networks this year have aired 145 scripted original primetime series and miniseries, a 14% increase over 2013. At least 350 new and returning scripted series have been ordered for the 2014-15 television cycle — including summer content. The question is, can Americans consume and support this volume of content? Research firm Moffett Nathanson projects that the market is reaching the point where, in the next few years, there will simply be too many shows for viewers to keep track of.
Some industry experts project that a decrease in content volume is inevitable.
- The biggest issues resulting from the increase in production is a spike in talent costs and source material such as scripts, formats, life stories, books and movie rights. Prices are also rising for crews, equipment and stages, while the need for more and more promotional time juxtaposed with declining ratings renders marketing campaigns less effective. It’s an evolving ecosystem that will require constant changes. We predict that companies whose business strategies are predicated on single big hit formats hits are going to become very fragile in the near future.
- The changing world of ratings is throwing up a new series renewal model. USA Network has decided on the fate of two freshman dramas, renewing Satisfaction but cancelling Rush. Both shows got off to a soft start in Live + Same Day as well as 18-49 ratings, and both have continued to perform similarly when judged on those ratings criteria. Factoring in USA’s decision to renew Satisfaction was the size of the show’s Live + 7 lifts. On average, Satisfaction‘s DVR gains have been bigger, with USA seeing growth potential in a show it also owns, rather than Rush which is a show they did not own.