What's The Buzz? (And Does It Really Matter?)

Does a high degree of pre-season buzz have any impact on whether a new TV series ultimately becomes successful?  The short answer is no.  The long answer is no, no, no, no, and no.

Over the past decade, roughly 30% of the new fall prime-time series with the most pre-season buzz were successful.  What was the success rate of all new series during the same period?  Roughly 30%.

The broadcast networks announce their fall schedules in May, at which point pundits and entertainment news outlets start predicting new season hits and misses.  Networks send reps to July's big Comic-Con in San Diego, where series stars and producers join panels trying to generate pre-season buzz. 

While syndicated news magazine series -- "Entertainment Tonight," "Extra," and "Access Hollywood" -- along with printed magazines like Entertainment Weekly used to be the main sources of new series promotion, social media has recently become a key component in promoting new series as well.  Online chatter ensues, and a few series are anointed as the most buzzworthy.



For several years, however, I've been demonstrating that pre-season buzz has virtually no impact on whether or not a new series becomes successful.

Some companies have tried to make buzz-related performance predictors without success.  There are several reasons for this:

·       Despite the fact that their audiences skew older, syndicated entertainment news magazine shows tend to focus more on the younger, sexier series, rather than on shows their own viewers are actually most likely to watch.

·       Except for CW, the average median age of the typical broadcast series viewer is about 50.  This is not necessarily the same audience buzzing the most about new series online.  We have seldom seen new CBS shows get as much pre-season buzz as other networks, but they've certainly had the most new series success in recent years.

·       Internet and Comic-Con buzz is often heavily skewed toward sci-fi series or shows with former sci-fi stars attached.  It was no surprise a few years back that many buzzmeisters were predicting "Bionic Woman" would be a hit.  Likewise, over the past two seasons, ABC's "Flash Forward" and NBC's "The Event" received a fair amount of pre-season chatter.


·       Much of the pre-season buzz comes from people who have not seen the pilot and don't know if the show is actually any good.


·       People who discuss new shows online are not necessarily going to watch them on television -- particularly if the series is scheduled opposite one of their favorites.


·       The impact of social media such as Facebook and Twitter is less clear at this point.  There does seem to be some correlation with big-event programming.  But social media is probably more predictive of shows that are already on, rather than new series.  Chatter about shows people have already been watching or have recently discovered might provide an indication of whether a show is poised to grow or decline.


Some of the most successful series during the past decade received very little pre-season attention.  These include "Without a Trace" (2002/03), "NCIS," "Two and a Half Men" (2003/04), "Lost," "Grey's Anatomy," "House" (2004/05), "Criminal Minds," "Bones" (2005/06), "The Big Bang Theory" (2006/07), "The Mentalist," "Castle" (2008/09), "Modern Family," "The Good Wife" (2009/10), "Raising Hope," "Body of Proof," and "Harry's Law" (2010/11).

Who remembers "Push Nevada," "Firefly" (2002/03), "Coupling," "Miss Match," "Line of Fire" (2003/04), "Joey," "LAX", "Jack & Bobby" (2004/05), "Commander in Chief" (2005/06), "Studio 60" (2006/07), "Pushing Daisies," "Bionic Woman," "Lipstick Jungle" (2007/08), "Dollhouse," "90210" (2008/09) "Flash Forward" (2009/10), and "Lone Star" (2010/11)?  They were among the most heavily buzzed shows right before their respective seasons.  None made it to season two.

Even "Glee" did not benefit from pre-debut buzz.  If you recall, it was heavily promoted prior to its May premiere following the "American Idol" finale.  Its initial performance was disappointing.  It became a viral and word-of-mouth hit over the summer, as numerous clips, music segments, and behind-the-scenes videos were available on Hulu and other online sites.  It was FOX's brilliant marketing that made the show a hit.

There doesn't seem to be much pre-season buzz this season. FOX's "Terra Nova" and "New Girl," CW's "Ringer," ABC's "Revenge" and "Once Upon a Time," and NBC's "The Playboy Club" and "Whitney" seem to be generating the most notice.  CBS' "Unforgettable" is generating the most buzz among its five new fall series, but still considerably less than the top buzzers on the other broadcast networks. 

What percentage will succeed?  If past performance is any indication, I'd guess roughly 30%.  What percentage of all other series will succeed?  If past performance is any indication, I'd guess 30%.

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