Betting On New Shows Akin To A Horse Race

As upfront week winds down, media buyers will soon begin placing their bets. Yes, the Preakness is Saturday.

Need tickets? NBC is carrying the race. Buyers doing upfront deals with the network on Friday might be able to score some premium seats in exchange for a premium CPM. Do a deal with ratings based on a C7 guarantee and perhaps get a limo ride to Pimlico.

Guessing which new shows will be hits this fall -- every fall -- after watching clips at an upfront presentation or even full pilots is about as scientific as gambling at the track.

NBC is bringing back Matthew Perry. Will he do better than Matt LeBlanc in “Joey”? Can Mindy Kaling segue successfully from “The Office” to Fox?

(For both new comedies, the over/under is a 3.0 in the key demo. Take the under on Perry and over on Kaling.)

In a new report, “There Must Be a Pony in Here Somewhere,” Nomura media analyst Michael Nathanson veers from his trenchant industry insight and makes a great case for picking Creative Cause in Baltimore with the 6-1 line.

Not true.

Nathanson's concerned with one-year-olds, not the two-year-olds getting ready for the starting gate Saturday. There are 14 first-year shows returning this fall on the Big Four networks, marking a 41% return rate. That’s considerably above the 23% figure the year before.

The 41% rate is line with the historical “batting average,” Nathanson writes. Warner Bros. is the Seattle Slew with the shows it produced getting a 75% return rate. Universal Media Studios was second at a little under 70%, though a return rate hardly connotes hit (see Universal, “Whitney”).

Cable, of course, has a much higher return rate since networks generally stick with shows longer since networks traditionally have been less reliant on ad dollars. Still, there is uncertainty. Buyers get frustrated year after year attaching their dollars to new shows and watching them get cancelled.

Perhaps the NewFronts, the efforts by Hulu, Yahoo, YouTube and others to sell well beforehand a la TV, offers a better parlay. If it takes a lot for a cable series to be sidelined, imagine the bar for an original Web series on, say, Hulu. If an NBC comedy is a tech IPO, that’s a Treasury bill.

Barclays issued a report this week trying to crack the code on which NewFront original content might break through. The verdict: YouTube has the best shot. Reasons: “deep pockets, existing advertising relationships and infrastructure and 800 million global users.”

(Speaking of the broadcast-cable dynamic, Barclays writes that Internet companies are looking for the Web to “eventually be to cable TV what cable TV was to broadcast TV,” providing an “opportunity to ‘super-serve the under-served.’” In other words, more fragmentation can’t come soon enough.)

Indeed, YouTube’s line-up of 100 channels with would-be top-tier content has an impressive array of talent either appearing or producing, from Jay-Z to Shaquille O’Neal. Announcements should continue to flow out for months. On Thursday, Ben Silverman’s Electus said a reality series about young Los Angeles Asian Americans in Koreatown would be launched on a pop culture channel LOUD.  

It sounds fanciful, but Barclays reports YouTube is offering $100 million advances to channel creators. (Multiply $100 million times 100 and the calculator can't handle it. The handle at the Preakness might not fund a single channel.)

Also, YouTube will spend $200 million promoting its offerings on the Google Display Network, according to Barclays. That sounds more practical since it is sort of moving dollars from one pocket to the other at Google.

It’s often said that TV’s ability for wide reach should keep it in good stead for years to come. Some might say another advantage -- even with the paperwork -- is it is relatively simple to buy. Looking to continue that with the online video boom, networks are more than happy to craft packages with their digital properties.

It would seem to take a lot less time to watch some network pilots than a slew of YouTube channels. So, the challenge of exposing buyers to its content could mean YouTube has a long race ahead of it.

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