Credit: Fox

Upfronts 2017: Media Agency Execs Size Up 2017-18 Broadcast Shows – PART 2

Buyers weigh in on keeping ad dollars in broadcast, 'American Idol's Revival and NFL impact on entertainment programming

This is Part 2 of a series in which media agency executives answer questions about the schedules announced by the broadcast networks at their recent upfront presentations. Part 1 appeared June 6.

Do media buyers think compelling shows are enough to keep TV viewers from defecting to digital? Can ABC’s revival of American Idol work? Can too much NFL negatively impact future network entertainment programming? Are there any potential breakout hits or break out stars for the new broadcast season?

On board to answer those questions about the upcoming broadcast season are Billie Gold, VP, director of programming research at Dentsu Aegis' Amplifi US; Brian Hughes, senior VP, audience analysis practice lead, Magna Global; and Dave Campanelli, senior VP, director of national broadcast, Horizon Media.

Upfronts 2017: Budgets Coming In; Ad Volume Could Be Lower

There has been some discussion within the industry that in order for the broadcast networks to continue to keep ad dollars from defecting to digital, they have to do more than just put on compelling hit shows. They need to offer better data, better ways to target audiences and do more to partner with marketers in the production of their programming. The networks are moving in that direction. What are your thoughts on this?

Gold: I truly believe the networks are trying to do everything within their power to bring the best shows they can to their airwaves That said, due to cost structure, most are trying to greenlight shows from their own studios, which is a little more restrictive but which they feel works out better for them in the long run. Also, many of the grittier, edgier shows are often offered to cable and OTT services first as they have a more lax structure and more flexible scheduling for the actors, while broadcast has more rules in place and has to deliver a broader audience base, which often limits the scope of their shows. The networks have data galore, and partner with marketers ever more frequently, so I think they've got that covered. Network shows for the most part still deliver the biggest audiences and reach, but competition is increasing with more original content coming to the market than ever before, creating greater and greater competition for eyeballs. It's just simple math, more choices equal more fragmentation. That said, we all know that live event programs still bring people together and the networks are increasingly trying to bring "live, social" events that have people talking to the airwaves.

Hughes: We’re happy with the direction and are working with our partners to further those efforts.

Campanelli: Networks need better data and more data. Data isn’t the solution to everything, buy layering data targeting on top of what TV does well—producing great content—makes the overall product even better. But the biggest thing “TV” needs to do is better buy and sell cross-screen to fully engage and reach the full potential audience that a network can deliver.

Related: What Makes Viewers Flock to Certain TV Shows and Keep Coming Back?

ABC is reviving American Idol and will bring it back in mid-season. Reports have said that Fox, NBC and CBS all had discussions with the show’s creators/producers and passed on it for various reasons, including the feeling that the timing was not right for its return and that it was too costly to be able to make a profit off of it. ABC obviously thought otherwise. How do you feel about the return of Idol? While it will no longer produce the mega-ratings it did in its heyday, can the singing competition series produce solid ratings numbers for ABC or will it struggle as it did in its waning years on Fox?

Gold: When American Idol was cancelled it had lost 25% of its audience over its last few seasons making its cost structure with fees and talent not viable to continue. Still, despite its ratings drop, most shows today aren't pulling in near the rating Idol was producing, especially in the coveted AD18-49 demographic. ABC has seen erosion the past couple of seasons, especially on Sunday nights (where Idol is proposed to go) and might have felt that the cost was worth it. This isn't a once a week show. There is usually a results show, audition shows, etc., all which can be used to launch other shows behind it, and serve as a promotion platform. It also has a big social component, which is a boon to any show. I don't believe ratings will pick up where they left off, but the show will likely still rate high for ABC and put it on the map on nights where they have seen erosion.

Hughes: This was honestly a real head-scratcher for me. It hasn’t been off the air very long, and is coming at a time when The Voice has really started to decline. My only thought is that it was a broad-appeal show, which could help give ABC a better male/female balance. In general, I don’t see audiences clamoring for its return, but perhaps ABC has a unique spin in mind.

Campanelli: I’m not privy to the production cost vs. revenue potential, but it was a question that I had as well. If it wasn’t working for Fox a few years ago, how will it be profitable now? But perhaps Disney can bring non TV assets to the table that will help them corporately monetize the show, such as Disney Radio and its Disney theme parks. American Idol and Fox also suffered from a bit of a narrative problem. Ratings were continually down year after year, so there was a narrative that the show was dead. But in reality, it still pulled a solid rating. One that would be a top 10 show now. And the fact that it is live is crucial as well. So, there are definitely good reasons to bring the show back.