Buyers talk: All I want for the upfronts is…

With presentations starting today, buyers talk about what they'd like to see in terms of content, what risks will pay off and how linear TV can compete with - or finally make friends with - digital.
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The annual U.S. television upfronts in New York started off this morning — which means all Canadian networks and media buyers are on high alert as they begin to piece together what the fall TV schedules will look like north of the border.

Many of the major networks have already announced the return of several top-performing shows, including ABC’s Designated Survivor (CTV), CBS’s Bull (Global) and ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy (CTV). But a number still await their fate, including Ransom (Global), Training Day (City) and Chicago Justice (Global). Plus, agencies and advertisers alike will have their eyes peeled for what’s new — which network has secured which big stars, the most interesting new concepts and the most PVR-proof storylines?

What’s getting tired?

“I’d like to think that we are done with the spin-off,” Jennifer Bidwell, managing director of television systems at Media Experts. Indeed, the last year has seen a wave of spin-offs (including a new member of the Chicago family, a spin-off of Criminal Minds and the now-cancelled Blacklist: Redemption).

She also thought audiences need a break from “the day-to-day crime-fighting” which has been present in series such as Gotham and Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD. Instead, Bidwell is hoping to see more lighthearted fare. “We’ve seen a huge comeback by comedies and I hope that writers keep pushing the envelope here.”

But Lindsey Talbot, managing director of trading and activation at Maxus Canada, is hoping networks move away from “canned, laugh-track” comedies.

Taking risks

Buyers sang the praises of This is Us, with Talbot noting that the content was a risk for NBC when it was ordered. “The risk was that the complex characters and story lines required viewers to invest their time watching multiple episodes in order to understand how all of the characters’ lives intertwined. Viewers easily could have grown tired and tuned out.”

Viewers are now awaiting season two — and three, with NBC giving the green light to two more seasons back in January. The first season of the drama was a consistent hit in Canada, with average viewership numbers of 679,000 for adults age 18 to 49 in its timeslot of Tuesday at 9 p.m. at mid-season.

Then there are the programs that are anything but risky — like CTV’s ratings favourite, The Big Bang Theory. The long-running CBS multi-cam comedy tops the country’s Numeris listings more often than not, a feat for a comedy that has been around for nearly a decade (with relatively average reviews from critics).

“I’m still amazed at the incredible millennial appeal of Big Bang Theory,” said Bidwell, noting that it was similar to Friends for her own generation. “It’s funny and relatable and aspirational all in one show.”

But she said broadcasters could still stand to mix it up in terms of content if they want to continue to hold millennials’ attention. “Some of the shows coming out of HBO [Girls] and Netflix [Luke Cage, Riverdale] prove that millennials also want shows that are more cutting-edge and topical.”

Talbot agreed and noted that there are many of those riskier comedies out there, like It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia (which airs on FX Canada). However, Talbot added that the edge of shows like Sunny put them in a tough spot for buyers. “[They] have a steady following, but those aren’t always advertiser friendly environments,” she said.

The big digital elephant in the room

Of course, being 2017, it’s impossible to talk about broadcast (or millennials) without talking about the strong competition from OTT content. With Netflix offering buzz-worthy original content like 13 Reasons Why and holding the exclusive Canadian rights to hits like Riverdale, and Amazon Prime Video now offered in Canada, Valerie McMorran, EVP and investment director, Starcom MediaVest, said broadcasters are struggling to stand out.

She said broadcasters should now focus on pulling millennials toward their digital platforms and creating a more harmonious relationship between their linear and digital properties. “It should be a holistic approach across screens and a sales strategy that speaks to that holistic approach.” She added that data needs to be better utilized for cross-platform targeting.

Bidwell added broadcasters also need to push for better cross-screen measurement in order to maximize their potential in the eyes of advertisers. “Their audiences are consuming this content across all screens and we have to be better at showing that.”

Talbot also said the VOD experience from broadcasters need to be more accessible and user-friendly. “Ensure that the experience is not aggravating to navigate. Reduce the commercial load time on all on-demand platforms. Don’t fill programs with the same ads or station promo spots.”

And when it comes to competing with the big digital giants, Talbot said if you can’t beat them, you might as well join them. “Take a page from NBC’s playbook — create an ad-supported licensing model for their top shows that offers viewers episodes on linear, digital and on-demand platforms,” she said, pointing to NBC’s recent licensing deal with Hulu.

The following renewals and cancellations have been declared by the U.S. broadcasters declared as of May 15.

CANCELLED

  • 2 Broke Girls (City)
  • Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders (CTV)
  • Dr. Ken (Family)
  • Emerald City (Space)
  • Last Man Standing (CMT)
  • Making History (City)
  • Notorious (CTV)
  • Pitch (Global)
  • Powerless (CTV)
  • Sleepy Hollow (CTV)
  • Son of Zorn (City)
  • The Blacklist: Redemption (Global)
  • The Catch (CTV Two)
  • The Great Indoors (Global)
  • The Real O’Neals (City)
  • Time After Time (CTV)

RENEWED (U.S.)

  • American Housewife (CTV Two)
  • Arrow (CTV Two)
  • Black-Ish (City)
  • Blindspot (CTV)
  • Blue Bloods (CTV)
  • Bob’s Burgers (City)
  • Brooklyn Nine-Nine (City)
  • Bull (Global)
  • Chicago Fire (Global)
  • Chicago Med (Global)
  • Chicago PD  (Global)
  • Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (Global)
  • Criminal Minds (CTV)
  • Dancing With the Stars (CTV)
  • DC’s Legends of Tomorrow (Global)
  • Designated Survivor (CTV)
  • Elementary (Global)
  • Gotham (CTV)
  • Grey’s Anatomy (CTV)
  • Hawaii Five-O (Global)
  • How to Get Away With Murder (CTV)
  • Kevin Can Wait (Global)
  • Law & Order: SVU (CTV)
  • Life in Pieces (City)
  • Little Big Shots (City)
  • Lucifer (CTV)
  • Madam Secretary (Global)
  • Man With a Plan (Global)
  • Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD (CTV)
  • Modern Family (CTV) — two more seasons
  • Mom (City)
  • NCIS (Global)
  • NCIS: Los Angeles (Global)
  • NCIS: New Orleans (Global)
  • Once Upon a Time (CTV Two)
  • Riverdale*
  • Rosewood (CHCH)
  • Scandal (City)
  • Scorpion (City)
  • Secrets and Lies (CTV)
  • Shades of Blue (Global)
  • Shark Tank (CTV)
  • Supergirl (Global)
  • Supernatural (Space)
  • Superstore (Global)
  • Survivor (Global)
  • Taken (Global)
  • The Amazing Race (CTV)
  • The Bachelor (Omni)
  • The Big Bang Theory (CTV) — two more seasons
  • The Exorcist (CTV)
  • The Flash (CTV)
  • The Goldbergs (CTV) — two more seasons
  • The Last Man on Earth (City)
  • The Mick (City)
  • The Middle (CTV)
  • The Simpsons (Global)
  • The Voice (CTV)
  • The X-Files (CTV)
  • This is Us (CTV) — two more seasons
  • Timeless (Global)

*Riverdale, which airs on the CW in the U.S., is exclusive to Netflix in other markets including Canada, with episodes rolled out on a weekly basis unlike the platform’s traditional binge format.

 

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