Were Those Upfront Moves Good Ones? Media Agency Execs Weigh In (Part One)

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The broadcast networks announced their new fall schedules at
their upfront presentations recently, and everyone now has an opinion on those
new shows and the ways each network will try to draw in more viewers for the
2013-14 season. But at this moment, one thing of paramount importance to the
networks is what the media agencies think, and what advice they give to their
marketer clients who are in the process of spending billions on commercial time
during the upfront buying process that's now underway.

MBPT gathered four veteran media agency programming research
executives and tossed 10 questions at them based on the most significant
network moves. The execs are: Brian Hughes, senior VP, audience analysis,
MagnaGlobal; Sam Armando, senior VP and director, SMGx Strategic Intelligence;
Billie Gold, VP, director of buying/programming research at Carat; and Brad
Adgate, senior VP, director of research, Horizon Media.

Five questions are addressed by the panel in Wednesday's
MBPT Spotlight. You can read the remaining five questions in Thursday's
Spotlight.

Much of Fox's new
programming for next season appears to be a bit more male-oriented than female,
i.e., the comedies
Dads and Brooklyn
Nine-Nine and some of the network's
dramas. Is this a smart move?
Brian Hughes:
I think it's less about gender skew and more about shows
that can have a rich life beyond the regularly scheduled airing. Fringe
was viewed heavily through on-demand formats, which is probably a major reason
it was renewed for a final season this year. Sleepy Hollow and Almost
Human
seem to have similar tone. Similarly, Fox's male-skewing animation
comedies like Family Guy are streamed heavily and have been very
profitable in syndication, which is why the network may have chosen some more
male-centric sitcoms; balancing female shows like New Girl and The
Mindy Project was likely also a consideration. When I look at Brooklyn
Nine-Nine,
I think of [series star] Andy Samberg's digital profile. Between
the SNL Digital Shorts and [the
shorts he creates with his comic video group] The Lonely Island, he brings a
lot of potential clout there. All in all, it seems Fox recognizes that TV shows
can't just be a block on a schedule grid anymore.

Sam Armando: Given the make-up of the primetime viewers, it is
questionable if the intent is exclusively to target men. In this case, however,
it appears to be an attempt to return to the days when Fox was riding high. Of
course, American Idol fueled the network, but its support cast was full
of shows that had a higher male composition than the average primetime show. House,
Prison Break, 24,
Human Target. The plan has a history of some
success on Fox, but based on the clips, these new shows fall short of those
aforementioned programs.

Billie Gold: Fox has always been slight more
male-targeted and I think it's a good strategy considering that they are trying
to draw back some of their core audience that may have been lost to cable.
Meanwhile, they are providing an alternative to what the other networks are
programming. Unfortunately, these types of shows rarely produce big ratings.

Brad Adgate: I think Fox made a conscious effort to
get male-targeted comedies to complement The
Mindy Project
and New Girl. Dads was picked up very early and Fox
ordered several other male oriented pilots besides Brooklyn Nine-Nine.

NBC has a lot of
holes to fill on its schedule for next season. Did it help or hurt itself with
its new show lineup?

Hughes: I give NBC a lot of credit for not being afraid to shake
things up, and for being frank about its slow road to improvement.
Statistically speaking, most new series fail and there's no getting around
that. But you have to be willing to take risks to find what works. For
example, I would never have predicted AMC's The Walking Dead to do
as well as it has.

Armando: There is nothing about the lineup that hurt
NBC, so time will tell if it will help. Pieces are in place, however, with The Voice being the critical piece. NBC
has repeatedly tried to sell the NFL and the Olympics as sure-fire promotion
platforms, but it is The Voice that
actually proved itself to be. The ability to use the show three times
throughout the year can only help. Another piece is recognizable names. While
Sean Hayes, Michael J. Fox and James Spader will not guarantee success, they
should create sampling. From that point, the shows must make the good
impression. Other moves have a chance to improve time periods. For instance,
even if Parenthood were to fall
to a 1.0 C3 rating on Thursday, the 10 p.m. time period would still
receive a 12% increase.

Gold: Rome wasn't built in a day and NBC will need a
couple of years to build back its schedule. Still, I think it may have one or
two good prospects. The Blacklist with James Spader will certainly get
sampled leading out of The Voice, as will The Michael J. Fox Show,
due to his likability factor. Whether or not these shows will contain their
audiences remains to be seen. While I was very high on Dracula when I saw it in development, the fact that they put it on
Friday night is never a good sign, even though it has great synergy with Grimm. I didn't particularly care for their
new Thursday night comedies, and I wasn't too high on the remake of Ironside, although it may be a good fit
for the Wednesday night schedule.

Adgate: I think what NBC put on after fourth quarter
this season was indicative of the weak schedule they had. Besides The Voice
and Sunday Night Football the network has no franchise shows to build a
night around. So scrapping what they had and starting anew makes sense.

NBC replaced The Apprentice on Sunday nights after NFL football season with two new dramas for
next season. Was this a good move and how do you think those dramas will fare
compared to how
The Apprentice did this season? Also, it is likely that
NBC will still bring back
The Apprentice
at some point next season. Is this a smart move?

Hughes: Only time will tell, but I will say history has shown that
unscripted shows cannot sustain a network forever. Strong scripted dramas and
comedies are always at the heart of long-term success.

Armando: I believe audiences have told us that The
Apprentice
is tired and they are growing bored of the premise. ABC's better
days are behind it on Sunday night and CBS' Sunday was down and is returning
intact. Now would be the time for NBC to try to establish a night that has been
a revolving door for some time. The tough task is to provide something that
will entice people to break Sunday viewing habits they may have fallen into
throughout fourth quarter when football was on NBC. The return of The
Apprentice
will be decided based on the success, or lack thereof, of these
Sunday dramas. As a low production Band-Aid, The Apprentice would be
classified as a stop gap, not smart.

Gold:The Apprentice has been declining in
ratings with each season and this season the ratings eroded drastically. It's a
declining franchise and I credit NBC for trying to build dramas where they have
a chance to be seen. If the dramas fail, the worse that can happen is that they
bring The Apprentice back. NBC had a very tough time last season with
its midseason entries and failures and I hope for the network's sake they can
turn things around with a possible breakout drama.

Adgate: Similar to ABC years ago when it had Monday
Night Football
, it's difficult for NBC to get a hit show once the NFL
season ends in late fourth quarter. You know what you have with The
Apprentice.
A new hit drama would be a welcome addition on a very
competitive night. I think NBC could bring The Apprentice back if the
dramas don't work. Sunday night is hyper competitive with all six Emmy
nominated dramas last year airing on Sunday night, including Downton Abbey.

ABC has decided to
combine its Tuesday
Dancing With
the Stars results show into its
Monday night
Dancing With the
Stars competition show. While it
gives the network an open hour to try out some new programming, it also costs
the network an hour where
DWTS produced 13.5 million viewers and a 2.2
18-49 demo rating. Is this a move worth making for ABC?

Hughes: I think so. Dancing has been slowly showing signs of
wear and ABC has two new series on Tuesdays that it seems to really believe in
-- Agents ofS.H.I.E.L.D. and The
Goldbergs.
While there are no sure things in the world of primetime TV, the
success of the Marvel film franchise certain gives S.H.I.E.L.D. a bit of
a leg up relative to the rest of the new series -- at least in terms of initial
sampling. Any show will ultimately live or die based on how good episode eight
is, not the pilot.

Armando: Absolutely. While it may be initially tough
to bring in that number of viewers during the hour, Dancing With the Stars
no longer has an upside. It may take more than one swing to get there, but the
idea is to find a replacement that can show growth and be on the schedule for
many years. While that might not happen with the new shows this year, it
definitely would not happen with DancingWith the Stars.

Gold: I am probably in the minority in thinking that
this is a risky move. I certainly credit ABC for trying to build up their
programming base with solid scripted shows while trying to stop the bleeding of
one of their key franchises in Dancing With the Stars. However, why get
rid of a show that is one of their six highest rated shows in the 18-49 demo?
While the show skews old, only Modern Family, TheBachelor, ABC's
college football on fall Saturday nights, Once Upon a Time, Grey's Anatomy
and their showcase Monday DWTS do
better in the demo. I know this must have been a tough decision and it may pay
off for them. If not, the good news is that they can always bring the results show
back in the future.

Adgate:DWTS is on a downward trend. While it
brings the network a sizable audience, the show has a very old median age and
has a pronounced female skew which is something I think ABC is trying to
change. 

It seems like The
CW is moving away from its traditional teen angst-type dramas, aging up with
its programming themes and also going more sci-fi. Is this a sound strategy to
turn around the network's ratings?

Hughes: Sci-fi and fantasy is what has worked for the network over
the past couple of years. Vampire Diaries and Arrow are its two
strongest shows, and Supernatural has been remarkably consistent. Those
genres also tend to be streamed heavily, and its full episode player is an integral
part of the network's business. So I can understand why they are taking
the approach they are, but it's too soon to tell whether it will work or not.

Armando: There are still teens in these shows, they
are just vampires, aliens, beasts and have the ability to teleport and
represent the next phase of human evolution. And yes, they still have angst. It
is just not taking place in Beverly Hills or New York's Upper East Side. In
order to grow their audience, they almost have to broaden their base. I think
these shows and the sci-fi/fantasy themes that run throughout touch on recent
theatrical successes and represent their attempt to attract additional viewers
without alienating the ones they have. 

Gold: The CW did extremely well with Arrow
last season, a show that skewed older and had a broader appeal than their usual
fare. For the network to grow its base, since it now has some males aboard with
Arrow, it is indeed a smart move.

Adgate: I was surprised at how much they have
invested in sci-fi. It has been working for them compared to other genres
lately, but how much is too much?

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