Will The End Of Pilot Season Also Mean The Demise Of Upfront Ad Selling?

Years from now, with perhaps a diminished TV pilot season, might the upfront marketplace also be smaller?

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.

4 comments about "Will The End Of Pilot Season Also Mean The Demise Of Upfront Ad Selling? ".
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  1. Rob Frydlewicz from DentsuAegis, May 30, 2014 at 3:49 p.m.

    Wayne, isn't this the 25th year in a row you've written this column? :) I'll be waiting for next week's column about 18-49 no longer being used for targeting!

  2. Mike Mellon from Retired TV research guru, May 30, 2014 at 4:27 p.m.

    Since the main person who decided not to do pilots no longer has that job, will pilots go back to having value?

    Also, I want to hire a consultant who combines snark with a lack of knowledge of the industry. Do you have any candidates?

  3. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, May 30, 2014 at 5:08 p.m.

    The broadcast TV Networks began cutting back on pilots years ago and, thanks to the guaranteed audience delivery system for packages involving a mix of holdover and new shows, this has had little effect on their ability to sell upfront time. Gone are the days when an agency could guess right on a new series and place its client in the show in a big way--capturing huge audiences at a low ball CPM for an entire season----"The Flip Wilson Show" was a prime example of this way back in 1970 but there have been others. The networks manage their total GRP inventories much more tightly now and are in almost complete control as to what shows get included in their packages, to what extent and at what prices. Also, pilots can be rather misleading as there are frequent cast and other changes once the networks see them and get a reaction from the agencies.

  4. Edmund Singleton from Winstion Communications, May 31, 2014 at 8:43 a.m.

    I for one will welcome the end of the Pilot Season as it has currently developed, there never was a enough time to access the value of a show against its competition which cannot be truly done with only two or three showings...I however long for the good old days of a thirteen week commitment...

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