Pre-Season Buzz Everywhere -- Still With Little Impact On New Series Success

There was a time, not long ago, when the major sources of pre-season buzz for a new TV series were syndicated news magazine shows, entertainment magazines, and TV sections of newspapers.  While these factors are still significant, Comic Cons and online social media have become at least as important in generating both positive and negative buzz.

For several years now, I’ve been issuing in-depth reports on the impact of pre-season buzz in determining new series success — or rather, the lack of impact.  Over the past 15 years, the success rate of new prime-time series that received the most buzz leading up to their debuts was roughly 30% — virtually identical to the success rate for all prime-time series.  

Going into the current prime-time season, the fall broadcast series with the most pre-season buzz were ABC’s “Designated Survivor” and “Conviction,” FOX’s “The Exorcist” and “Pitch,” and NBC’s “This is Us” and “The Good Place.”  Two of the six  (33%), “Designated Survivor” and “This is Us,” are bona fide hits.  The other clear new-series successes, CBS’s “Bull” and “Kevin Can Wait,” and FOX’s “Lethal Weapon,” received far less pre-season notice.  



There are several reasons why pre-season buzz has little impact on whether or not a new series becomes successful:

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

Except for CW, the average median age of the typical broadcast series viewer is over 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 it has arguably had the most new series success over the past 15 years.

Internet and Comic Con buzz is often heavily skewed toward sci-fi and superhero series, or shows with former sci-fi stars attached.  Except for CW, most broadcast series in this category tend not to live up to the hype.  Cable networks (and now Netflix) have had more success in this area.

Most social-media-based 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.  This remains true even in today’s DVR, streaming video, time-shifted world — though how much longer this continues to be the case remains to be seen.

The impact of social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter is less clear at this point.  There does seem to be some correlation with big-event programming: major sports or political events, award shows, season finales, etc. 

But social media is currently 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.  NBC’s “This is Us” is a good example of a new show that has received a tremendous amount of positive buzz throughout the season (just as FOX’s “Empire” did during its first season).  

Over the past 15 years, some of the most successful broadcast series received little pre-season attention.  These include, “NCIS,” “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Criminal Minds,” “The Big Bang Theory,” “The Mentalist,” “Castle,” “Modern Family,” “The Good Wife,” “Blue Bloods,” “Scandal,” “Chicago Fire,” and “Empire,” to name just a few.

Who remembers “Push Nevada,” “Jack & Bobby,” “Studio 60,”  “Dollhouse,” “Flashforward,” “Terra Nova,” “The Muppets,” or “Heroes Reborn”?  They were among the most heavily buzzed shows leading into their respective seasons.  None made it to season two.

There’s an old saying in our business that the fastest way to kill a bad product is through great advertising.  Pre-season buzz is also the fastest way to kill a bad TV show.

4 comments about "Pre-Season Buzz Everywhere -- Still With Little Impact On New Series Success".
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  1. Jack Wakshlag from Media Strategy, Research & Analytics, December 14, 2016 at 3:03 p.m.

    Well said sir. The buzz meter also goes gaga when big name stars have a lead role. What say you about those?

  2. Steve Sternberg from The Sternberg Report replied, December 14, 2016 at 3:14 p.m.

    Big name stars do tend to bring along long-time (usually older) fans to the show, as Tom Selleck did for Blue Bloods. But because it is usually older-skewing shows, they tend not to get as much buzz - it's the network promos that draw the audience. There are fewer younger big name stars, and they tend to not have much impact. For younger viewers, it's often the show that makes the star, not the other way around.

  3. Sean Casey from Nielsen Social , December 15, 2016 at 5:48 p.m.

    Great article Steve. At Nielsen Social we looked at this during a past premiere season and found that Twitter activity ahead of brand new series premieres was helpful in anticipating premiere audience sizes, above and beyond the other factors included in the study like promotions activity and network type:

    We focused on new series specifically given the strength of past audience sizes as a predictor for returning series. We'll be exploring this further in the coming months with the additional social TV data we measure today, such as organic Facebook activity and the ability to isolate engagement with owned content on Twitter.

  4. Steve Sternberg from The Sternberg Report replied, December 15, 2016 at 6:27 p.m.

    Hi Sean - would love to meet with you and see exactly what you are doing. I have trouble believing that Twitter activity can help predict new series premiere audiences. But I am always willing to learn and be persuaded.

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