With the broadcast networks announcing their new fall
schedules at their upfront presentations, everyone now has an opinion on those new
shows and the ways each network tries to draw more viewers. But what matters
most to networks at this juncture is what the media agencies think, and what
advice they give to their marketer clients that will spend billions in
MBPT gathered four veteran media agency programming research
executives and tossed 10 questions at them based on these myriad network moves.
The execs are: Brian Hughes, senior VP, audience analysis, MagnaGlobal; Sam
Armando, senior VP-director, strategic intelligence, SMGx; Billie Gold, VP,
director of buying/programming research at Carat; and Brad Adgate, senior VP-director,
research, Horizon Media.
Five questions are addressed by the panel in Thursday's MBPT
Spotlight. You can read the remaining five questions in Friday's Spotlight.
The X Factor or The Voice? Which show wins the viewer and 18-49 demo battle next season? And
will new X Factor judges Britney Spears and Demi Lovato make
a difference in drawing more viewers?
Brian Hughes: It's a tough call because they've never been on at the
same time. However, if we're going solely on audience performance to date, The
Voice has the edge. It's actually beating American Idol among some demos. Of course, it remains to be seen if
airing another season so soon will have a wear-out effect on The Voice.
With regard to X Factor, Britney and Demi may give the show a boost on
its initial return, but we're not sure it will have a lasting impact. If
ratings end up being stable overall, I would call that a win for Fox.
The Voice comes into the 2012-13 season as the hotter show. It would
have to lose over 50% of its current adults 18-49 rating to equal what X
Factor averaged last fall. Based on that, along with the mass appeal of the
show, I would give the edge to The Voice with both total viewers and
adults 18-49. X Factor will receive a boost at the beginning of its run
due to the new judges. As we have seen with other judge changes, however, that
initial sampling will dwindle and its performance will depend on the show
itself carrying the load.
Billie Gold: It's likely going to be a close race,
but I think The Voice will still have the edge in adults 18-49 after
initial sampling for the newly recast X Factor. If Britney ends up being
a train wreck, and things heat up virally, it might be a different story,
however. Expect The X Factor to gain audience in the adults 18-34 demo
as a result of the new judges.
Brad Adgate: I think X Factor will beat The
Voice, but it will be close
and greatly scrutinized. X Factor is well rested and The Voice
runs the risk of being overexposed with a full cycle and an additional night
scheduled for 2012-13. Most successful shows get an audience bump in their
second season and adding Britney Spears and Demi Lovato should bring some
interest and viewers in the show. Also, audience for The Voice tailed
off as the season progressed and an additional night was added. The network of
course blamed the clocks for this. This is another Christina Aguilera vs.
Britney Spears rivalry. Aguilera beat her out by winning the Grammy Award for
Best New Artist in February 2000.
Will Fox finally
get its next big drama hit since 24
with the Kevin Bacon drama The
Hughes: It was
definitely one of the shows we called out as having potential in our development
analysis. Having Kevin Bacon on board is definitely a plus, but ultimately it
will live or die-pun intended-on the merits of the characters and storytelling.
As my mentor [former Magna research exec] Steve Sternberg used to say, "Stars don't
make shows, shows make stars." So while The Following looks to have all
the earmarks of event television, there is still one question that is nagging
me: What will season two look like?
Armando: Based on the clips, it appears this is its
best shot. The show will have the initial draw of Bacon and the plot and storyline
to potentially maintain that initial viewership. The question is whether the
content will produce a small yet loyal and consistent fan base, like Fringe,
or a mass appeal audience like Lost.
Gold: I would
have to see the full pilot before I could say. Kevin Bacon will certainly drum
up interest for the show but it may be a bit dark and heavy for some, based on
Adgate: I think The
Following could become the new 24. Similar to 24, the drama
is airing after the NFL season ends, when there is a large group of male
viewers looking for something to watch. Another parallel to 24 is the
show has star power with Kevin Bacon. It's also a lot less expensive to produce
than Terra Nova, last year's Monday night new show.
Does NBC's Revolution have a chance to be the hit the network is looking for to start its
ratings turnaround? Or will it follow the path of The Event and other sci-fi dramas that don't seem to
do that well on broadcast television these days?
Hughes: A big sci-fi drama is always a gamble for two main reasons: one,
they tend to be expensive to produce, and two, they are usually serial in
nature and, therefore, don't repeat well. I think Lost set a very different precedent in its first couple of seasons
by drawing sizeable audiences despite its supernatural themes and intricate
storytelling. That is something the networks have been trying to recapture. We've
heard the phrase "the next Lost" for several years now at the upfront
presentations. For Revolution, I think it could go either way. As I
mentioned for The Following, the characters and storytelling will
ultimately decide its fate.
Armando: Unlike The Event, where the audience
was kept in the dark about what was going on, the conflict of Revolution is not only known, but
something that many people are likely to be curious about-the loss of
electricity. In fact, that premise may not have people thinking sci-fi as was
the case with shows like The Event and Flash Forward. As a
result, Revolution has a better chance of catching on, especially with
the look of the clips that had people mentioning Lost and The Hunger
Games. With that said, the success of this show may rest with the young
adult viewers as older viewers may not be ready to pull away from their
habitual viewing of Hawaii Five-0 and Castle on Monday night.
Gold: It depends on how complicated the plot is.
Viewers already invested in Lost and
it took too long for the payoff. Heroes
started off strong but then went off the beaten path and viewers fled. I have a
feeling it will follow suit and start out big and slowly fade.
Adgate: Any new program has the potential to be a
hit; that's why it's on the schedule. The NFL on ESPN will hurt it, though, in
the fourth quarter. Also, how well The Voice does will be indicative of
the show's success. On the plus side, these types of shows can be popular on
social media, which will help.
All of the Big Four
broadcast networks have been trying to add more comedy to their lineups, but
has NBC and ABC gone overboard with new comedies for next season?
Hughes: This is a cyclical thing. In the fall of 2010, there were
only eight comedies on the entire broadcast schedule because drama and reality
was what was working. Next fall, ABC will have that many on its own. We're
seeing this glut because the networks have been relatively successful in
launching new comedies over the past couple of years and want to seize on that
momentum. It will balance out over time.
Armando: When you see that nine of the top 15
regularly scheduled programs among the 18-49 demo in 2011-12, excluding sports,
were sitcoms, it is no surprise that we have seen an onslaught of the genre for
2012-13, especially when you consider how much better they repeat vs. drama and
reality. I do not believe people have a limit to the amount of comedy or drama
they watch, so the issue of going overboard is more of a development concern-are
we seeing watered-down comedy because only so much can be successfully
developed in one year? For NBC, one has to believe that the shelf life
remaining on many of its comedies is coming to an end, so while they ride those
shows out -- shows like 30 Rock, The Office, Community and Parks &
Recreation -- it is not a bad thing to see if they may already have a
replacement. At ABC, their momentum is with comedy, so trying to use that
success on other nights makes sense.
Gold: If there are a lot of great comedy pilots in
your hands, I understand putting them on. But it seems that NBC and ABC just
wanted to cash in on what is hot right now and comedy was big last year.
Besides, if a comedy hits big, it has a lucrative second life in syndication,
which is a big plus for a network if it owns the show. However, except for Fox's
new comedy Ben and Kate, I had little interest based on the clips I saw
for any of NBC's or ABC's comedy additions. Again, until I see all the full
pilots though, I leave judgment open.
Adgate: I don't think either ABC or NBC went too
overboard. The networks have had a pretty successful year with comedies. While
the number of sitcoms has grown this year, there were 42 comedies on the fall
lineup for ABC, CBS and NBC alone in 1997. Comedies are less
expensive to produce, bring in younger viewers and repeat well, so the risk is
worth the reward.
Is it a mistake for
NBC to start its Thursday nights off with a comedy block with a median age
audience of 40 and lead into the newly relocated news magazine Rock Center with Brian Williams that skews about 58? Particularly on a
night when retailers and movie studios spend lots of their ad dollars?
Hughes: I think NBC is trying to take advantage of the election and
provide a compatible lead-in for its affiliates' evening news. Perhaps
counter-programming was also a consideration since ABC and CBS are both airing
dramas. Whatever the case, it is certainly a very competitive time period, so
any show would face an uphill battle.
Armando: To a smaller degree, CBS accomplished a lot
with starting Thursday with a median age of around 40 and transitioning into Person
ofInterest and The Mentalist with a median age of 59. Yes,
the gap is [about as large], but NBC made it clear that the emphasis is on
Tuesday and Wednesday this season and they proved it with how they addressed
Thursday. One has to believe that NBC would like people to tune into the
network for more than just The Voice and its best bet is to build the
nights that surround its most-watched show. If NBC can successfully build those
nights, then Thursday will become much easier to schedule in the future.
Gold: I have no clue why NBC put the older-skewing Rock
Center on this huge night for movie and retail advertisers. What were they
Adgate: I think it was an unusual decision and points
out how much the network believes in this show. NBC has had difficulty with
dramas in the same time period. It aired three alone last season-Prime Suspect,
The Firm and Awake -- compared
to three -- Hill Street Blues, L.A. Law and ER -- that it aired
from 1982 to 2009. So, a newsmagazine may work better, but the audience flow
coming out of the comedies is a little contrarian.