Fall Schedule Strategies
Syndicators use fine calculations to decide programs’ premiere dates
By Jim Benson -- Broadcasting & Cable, 7/24/2005 8:00:00 PM
If Yogi Berra had been asked to put together a fall schedule for a syndicator, he might have uttered, “It gets late early out there.”
That’s why, early each summer, syndication executives are asked for their input in selecting fall premiere dates for new and returning shows. While it might seem simple, it isn’t. A miscalculation can result in viewers missing their programs amid a flurry of fall launches—and it can be tough to get them back.
Since there is often little coordination between conjoined network/syndication operations over fall schedules, syndicators with new off-net shows will follow the lead of their network counterparts. That enables them to take advantage of the sister network’s promotions for the prime time version of the series.
Other premiere-date considerations include holiday, political and sports schedules; filling schedule gaps on key station groups; and seamless transitions for companion and replacement shows.
The premiere-date issue is so sensitive that several industry execs refused to speak on the record. Some cited the benefit of premiering early so as to stand out from the pack, while others said that debuting after the majority helps the promotional message stick in viewers’ minds.
For the 2005-06 season, a majority of strips, including three new to first-run—NBC Universal’s Martha, Telepictures’ Tyra Banks and Twentieth TV’s Judge Alex—will make their fall debuts on Sept. 12, a week after Labor Day.
But fewer viewers may sample them or see their promos because of Labor Day-week vacations. So some shows, like Warner Bros.’ off-net Sex and the City and Debmar/Mercury’s South Park, are waiting until Sept. 19.
Still others, like Tribune Entertainment’s Soul Train—returning the week of Oct. 3—delay until higher fourth-quarter ad rates kick in.
Starving for new shows
Then there are the early birds. NBCU’s Maury and a few others debut on Labor Day, benefiting from the holiday-ratings boost provided by younger viewers out of school. A few strong shows, namely King World’s Oprah Winfrey and Buena Vista’s Live With Regis and Kelly, dare to start the week before Labor Day, when fewer—but younger—viewers are watching and ad rates are lower.
Some industry strategists believe that, with the right promotion, that’s a great time to stand out, because repeats dominate the dial and viewers are starved for new shows.
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