| NEW YORK
NEW YORK May 16 The big four U.S. broadcast
networks, in need of new TV hits to turn around slumping
ratings, are betting espionage programs and old comedy stars
will convince advertisers to spend about $9 billion during the
so-called upfront selling season.
This week, the broadcast networks have been wooing
advertisers, giving them previews of the new shows and revealing
the upcoming fall schedules all in the hope that they will get
commitments for billions of dollars.
The broadcasters are under pressure from growing competition
from cable, upstarts such as Netflix and Wall Street
expectations that their ad price hikes will be the lowest in
Barclay's Capital estimates that the networks will be able
to push their ad rates up by 6 percent on average, which is well
ahead of the 1.3 percent annual inflation rate, but down from
7.5 percent in 2012.
SINCEREST FORM OF FLATTERY
Copying a successful program is a time-honored TV tradition
and this year, the networks fixated on espionage. Three out of
four large networks showed advertisers series that resembled the
Emmy-award winning cable drama "Homeland".
"The intelligence/spy genre just happens to be resonating
with viewers lately," said Jason Maltby, director of national
broadcast TV at media buying firm MindShare.
"Homeland," which premiered in 2011 on CBS-owned cable
network Showtime, is about a returning Iraq veteran and a CIA
agent at the heart of a political and terrorism conspiracy. It
dominated last year's Emmys, sweeping the top drama categories
in the television awards show.
CBS's flagship drama was "Hostages", featured Toni Collette
as a surgeon whose family is taken hostage by a rogue FBI agent.
Collette becomes part of a conspiracy to assassinate the
president. Action producer Jerry Bruckheimer is behind the show,
which like "Homeland" is adapted from an Israeli series. CBS
plans a limited run of 15 episodes.
Bernstein analyst Todd Juenger said "Hostages" had "so much
intrigue, mystery, and twists in the two-minute trailer, our
heads were spinning."
FOX <NWSA.O is rebooting its Kiefer Sutherland series "24."
The executive producer is Howard Gordon, who created the
original show that ran from 2001 to 2010. Gordon went on to
co-develop "Homeland." The new show will debut in May 2014 and
will consist of 12 episodes that represent 24 hours.
NBC's effort in the genre, "The Blacklist," stars James
Spader as a former fugitive who is helping the FBI catch a
terrorist. It also has a hostage show called "Crisis."
ABC does not have a "Homeland"-type show, but its
highest profile drama will have plenty of action. Disney, which
owns ABC, is tapping its blockbuster "Avengers" franchise for a
TV show about a group of agents who investigate strange
happenings around the world. The program, "Marvel's Agents of
S.H.I.E.L.D.", will be going up against the top-rated CBS
"S.H.I.E.L.D. has a broad appeal. That will do well on
Tuesday nights," said Harry Keeshan, executive vice president of
national broadcast at PHD, a division of media agency Omnicom.
Comedies tend to attract a younger audience making them
attractive to broadcasters. They also typically have a better
For the past few years, networks have been trying to
replicate the success of ABC's sitcom "Modern Family." This year
was no different, with several shows about wacky families.
What is different, though, is that the networks are turning
to old stars who once were mega-successful on TV. Michael J. Fox
has a new family comedy on NBC called "the Michael J.
Fox Show". Robin Williams, who shot to fame in the late 1970s on
television's "Mork and Mindy," will have a new show on CBS
called "The Crazy Ones," portraying an advertising executive.
While media buyers say both have gained buzz with clients,
it is not a slam dunk to have a star attached to a new vehicle.
"Stars don't make shows. Shows make stars. Having a big name
like Robin Williams is no guarantee that the show's going to do
well," said Brian Hughes, a senior vice president at MagnaGlobal
who analyzes TV audiences.
Hughes said he liked the Michael J. Fox's series better
because it had right mix of humor and was also honest because
producers wrote Fox's Parkinson's disease into the show.
While the schedule for next year's TV season has been
revealed, media buyers say that they and their clients still
have to watch the full pilots before they make buying decisions.
MagnaGlobal's Hughes said he will be projecting ratings
performance and trying to figure out what will make it to a
second season. History shows most new series fail. Social media
buzz could indicate a new show will get good sampling, but may
not predict longevity, he said.
Over the next three or four weeks, networks will be pushing
for ad rate increases - which advertisers do not want to pay,
said Keeshan, from Omnicom's PHD whose clients include
GlaxoSmithKline, Hyatt and Safeway.
He added that by the end of July, all of the ad deals will
be in place.
"We figure out where we're going in terms of getting to a
price point everyone agrees on. Now, the work begins," Keeshan