Other Nets Following Fox's Summer Script, Build On Year-Round Strategy
Last summer's experiment contained a nonstarter, sitcom "Keen and Eddie," which didn't bode well for the concept of fresh programming 52 weeks a year. Then, in early August, Fox debuted "The OC" in a way that was designed to encourage sampling and boost buzz. "The OC" came closest to a genuine hit among new Fox shows, and not only did it stay on the schedule, but smart scheduling and a few extra episodes gave it life throughout the traditional broadcast season.
With the testing completed and one hit in place, Fox will jump feet first into year-round programming with an aggressive summer schedule that includes reality, sitcoms, and drama. While there's some question as to whether the summer schedule will be a hit with advertisers--buyers have noted that most of advertisers' budgets for third-quarter spending was allocated long ago--Madison Avenue has embraced the effort.
"It's a very smart strategy. I would say that their preparation for it is much more advanced and in place than any other network," says Stacey Lynn Koerner of Initiative Media. "I think it says a lot about Fox. Even if it fails, we know that they're willing to try."
If the industry is excited by Fox's year-round programming, it has also forced other networks to commit to more original programming in the summer--although not yet to the level of Fox. One of NBC's riffs at its upfront presentation Monday was that it would go year-round, even providing advertisers with a first look at some of the shows that would be running next summer. ABC has taken a few more tentative steps--with less of a commitment than Fox, but also a stable of original shows like "Blind Justice," which is slotted to take the place of "NYPD Blue" when the ABC veteran cop show ends its run next season.
Summer programming has worked for several networks, from "Survivor" on CBS to "Fear Factor" on NBC. Fox knows summer success well, having tasted it with "Beverly Hills 90210" and "Melrose Place" during its history and "American Idol" in 2002. And of course, that's taking a page from cable's playbook, which has done well over the years with original programming while the broadcast networks seem to have taken an extended summer vacation.
"It's a great way to develop an audience," says Kristi Argyilan, media director at Hill, Holliday in Boston. Fox is also guaranteeing the schedules, making it attractive for advertisers in several ways. The rest of Fox's schedule hasn't developed as much buzz, however. Koerner says that Fox has been a network in search of another scripted hit. It hasn't found one that has resonated with viewers yet, although some of its new programming--particularly "Arrested Development"--has found critical acclaim.
"They need to find a show like "The X Files" or "Ally McBeal," Koerner says. When those shows ended, their youthful audiences didn't come back to Fox. They went elsewhere--to UPN and The WB as well as cable.
While down from its heights, Fox's Sunday night lineup, which includes "The Simpsons" and "King of the Hill," is pretty strong. And that's to say nothing of their premiere show "American Idol," which many expect to continue its January-to-May run to avoid oversaturation.
"What they have to do is figure out how to leverage that audience," says Lyle Schwartz, senior vice president and director of research at Mediaedge:cia.