Kevin Reilly, outgoing chairman of Fox Entertainment, made big pronouncements over the past year about getting rid of pilot season, that four-month period when the broadcast networks can start up some 100 pilots.
Those pilots are then rushed to be cast, produced and completed so that series can vie for positions on network schedules. All that must be done before the May upfront presentations.
Reilly believed this was a waste of time and effort -- especially considering such changing viewer habits as binging/marathon viewing and increased time-shifting. He pushed for more year-round development and program launches to avoid the noise of the massive fall TV marketing efforts.
To be fair, other network executives joined the call. With shifting viewer patterns, they are looking for more limited series and more “eventizing” of specific programs.
If some or all of this were to occur, it would perhaps result in a diminished upfront advertising market.
What if those pilots -- rushed to release in time for new programming schedules -- disappeared or decreased in number? What if TV series’ “new” seasons had start dates all over the year, not mostly in the fall? Maybe then there wouldn’t be a need for advertisers to spend 70-75% of their budgets in an upfront market.
One would imagine all this would work well in a growing world of real-time -- or near real-time -- media planning and buying. Broadcasters have already seen slipping volume of upfront dollars year-to-year -- with cable networks’ upfront dollars inching higher.
That said, cable networks continue to garner a sizable share of calendar-year deals.
The irony is that newfront digital media players -- all believing that video is the future -- also want to play in the upfront advertising market. Scores of digital platforms made upfront presentations this year.
Still, critics say to those players: “Where’s the programming?” and, more importantly, “Where’s the scarcity that will force me to make an ‘upfront’ decision to secure that inventory?”
Digital video platforms might answer that programming is coming. (AOL has some 16 series that’ll start up “throughout the year” on the AOL On Network ).
But TV networks? Some would say they are going -- slowly -- in the other direction.