The stars of 'Will & Grace' (Credit: Virginia Sherwood/NBCUniversal)

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

Revivals, new military series abound as networks negotiate ad sales for the upcoming season

As media buying of advertising for the broadcast networks’ fall schedules heats up, it is once again a time where the agencies size up the new broadcast shows and their programming strategies for the season. And while every TV viewer has an opinion as to what will succeed and not succeed, the most important opinions belong to the media agencies who are advising their clients as they prepare to spend billions of dollars on commercial time during the upfront buying process.

During the past five upfronts, B&C has gathered three veteran media agency executives and tossed 10 questions at them based on some of the key broadcast network moves. The execs this year 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.

The two part-conversation will cover topics such as the networks’ decision to revive past hit shows and to offer an abundance of new military-themed shows; the decision to bring back ratings-challenged shows that in prior years might have been cancelled; the decision to hold back more new shows for mid-season premieres rather than fall debuts; and how the networks are selling ads in the face of declining viewership.

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

Here’s Part 1:

Every year for the upcoming new season the broadcast networks all seem to jump on at least one, and sometimes more, theme when it comes to genre of new programming. This year it happens to be both nostalgia (e.g., resurrecting one-time hit shows) and new shows with military themes. In a two-part question, how do you think the reboots of Roseanne by ABC, Will & Grace by NBC, Dynasty on The CW and S.W.A.T. on CBS will do with viewers? And with all the publicity that real-life military combat abroad is getting, will that have an impact on whether viewers watch these new military dramas?

Billie Gold: Networks gravitate towards resurrecting former top TV shows that they feel will have a built in audience and instant name recognition. With all the increased fragmentation with new originals on not just cable but pay and now OTT services, breaking out with a name or characters that people instantly recognize and have a fondness for, is a huge benefit. Some cases in the past—such as Hawaii Five-0 on CBS, The X-Files on Fox, Dallas on TNT, Fuller House on Netflix–prove revivals can succeed, but we've seen just as many fail. While Will & Grace might prove popular on NBC's new Thursday night, especially with all the original cast onboard, Dynasty on The CW might not find the same success given that show means little to the audience of that network. Riverdale, for example, is not the Archie many of us knew and loved. Roseanne on the other hand will surely get sampled, but it will all be about the chemistry and writing in the end. Bottom line, it's hard for new programs to grab audience these days with each network fighting for an ever-smaller piece of the available viewing audience. Resurrected shows often bring viewers to the show, [at] least to get sampled, which is a big plus and what the networks are counting on. As for military shows, there are already quite a number gracing the airwaves, some with moderate success, but with the world becoming an increasingly unsettled place, people might start shying away from the "realness" these shows depict.

Brian Hughes: The broadcasters have been relying on five key genres for several years now: crime procedurals, reality competition, family comedies, comic book/sci-fi/fantasy shows, and soapy dramas (think Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal). That won’t really be changing much next season, as they will still comprise 62% of the fall schedule. In terms of bringing back classic shows, I think there’s a couple of things going on. One, the availability of library episodes on streaming platforms like Netflix and Hulu has likely exposed new audiences to shows that have been off the air for a while, and this may be an effort to get them to spend more time with linear TV. Second, recent efforts, like X-Files and Prison Break, have been relatively successful, and that usually triggers more of the same. There was definitely an uptick in military and government-themed shows for next year, but with the political climate I’m not sure if that will be an incentive to tune in or tune out.

Dave Campanelli: It’s not new for networks to use memorable program brands to grab attention to launch a new show. The hardest thing to do is to break through the clutter. A known brand can do that. What’s interesting this year is bringing back original casts. Previous reboots mostly had new casts for a new generation. Returning the original cast is different than that and I think is born out of the success Netflix has had with Fuller House and Gilmore Girls. Having said all that, the breakout hits of the last few years, such as Empire and This Is Us, were original shows, and most importantly, they are good, new concepts, not just reboots, re-imaginations or retreads.