Did anyone really think way back in 2006 that prime-time newcomer Tiny Fey's "30 Rock" would do better than TV writing-wonder kid Aaron Sorkin's "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip"? Turns out that Fey lit up the airwaves -- and Sorkin wound up guest-starring on a "30 Rock" episode this past season!
The gamble for media buyers up to the late '80s/early '90s was to buy a show at a relatively low CPM (cost per thousand) with low ratings expectations -- and hope the show would overdeliver in all metrics.
A show's 'overdelivery' -- getting higher than expected viewership -- rarely enters the media jargon any more, and for good reason. Few, if any, expect shows to give more than what is promised -- let alone make it into a second season.
Some 27 new network prime-time shows are hitting the airwaves this season, and we know the odds of them succeeding -- and success, in this case, means getting to true profitability through syndication, cable and international deals.
Media buyers anticipate many shows to be out of the money after just a few weeks on air. Some will make it to the end of season. Fewer will make it to another one. But even those stand to lose money for producers.
Fractionalization of viewership means media buyers now count less on individual shows than they did in previous years. Maybe "American Idol" or NFL football are exceptions. Still, we all know that one show -- or two -- does not a media buy make.
So media buyers look more broadly to find audiences - sort of a mutual fund of media planning. They start with show expected to be top-rated and add in a few spicy risks -perhaps "Terra Nova," "Up All Night," "Grimm," "The Playboy Club," "Ringer," "Revenge," or "The Secret Circle."
Good luck. Here's to TV overindulging -- and a lottery-chance of over-delivery.