Does Pre-Season Buzz Really Help a New TV Series?

For cable and streaming services, yes.  For broadcast series, not so much.

Some shows generate a considerable amount of buzz before they premiere, while others tend to fly under the radar.  A number of new series with strong pre-season buzz have become instant successes (such as “The Walking Dead” and “This is Us”), while others have just as quickly flopped (see “Heroes Reborn” and “The Bastard Executioner”).  Many others received little pre-season notice and yet became long-running hits (e.g., “NCIS” and “Grey’s Anatomy”).

Syndicated news magazine series such as “Entertainment Tonight,” “Extra,” and “Access Hollywood,” along with printed newspapers and magazines like Entertainment Weekly, used to be the main sources of new series promotion and buzz.  I was once among the pundits appearing on “Entertainment Tonight” every year discussing my agency’s projected new season hits.  Social media is now a key component in promoting new series as well.  



And then there’s Comic Con.  Networks send reps to the big July event in San Diego, where series stars and producers join panels geared to generating pre-season buzz among hardcore fans, which their publicity machines try to make sure spill over to the general public.  In the past few years, Netflix shows (such as “Stranger Things” and “The Defenders”) and returning ad-supported and premium cable hits (such as “The Walking Dead,” “Game of Thrones,” and “Westworld"), have been receiving the most buzz at these events. The New York Comic Con takes place in October, and is starting to rival the San Diego event in size (but not in influence, the number of all-star panels, or press coverage).

It is interesting, and perhaps counterintuitive that over the past 15 or 20 years, the success rate of all new broadcast television series has been essentially the same as those that generated the most pre-season buzz, roughly 30%.  

Pre-season buzz seems to have more of an impact on cable series, primarily because there are fewer of them and their ratings threshold for success is significantly lower.  Since 2001, roughly 60% of the most buzzed about new ad-supported cable shows became successful.

News series that seem to be getting the most pre-season buzz this season are ABC’s “Marvel’s Inhumans,” CBS’s “Young Sheldon,” NBC’s (returning after an 11-year hiatus) “Will & Grace,” and FOX’s “The Gifted” and “The Orville.”

“Marvel’s Inhumans” is the first new broadcast series I can recall with a significant amount of negative buzz leading up to its premiere – generated by online clips, Comic Con buzz, and critical panning of its initial IMAX showing (which is slated for a two-week run before its debut on ABC).  If positive pre-season buzz doesn’t help much, it will be interesting to see whether negative buzz hurts.

That said, there does seem to be less buzz overall for this season’s crop of new shows than for those of the past few seasons.  This could be because there are now so many original scripted series in the summer, viewers don’t focus on the following season as early as they used to.  

Nevertheless, this lack of buzz does not mean there won’t be successful new series.  Just as heavy buzz does not correlate with success, lack of buzz does not correlate with failure.  Two of the best new broadcast shows, ABC’s “The Mayor” and  “The Good Doctor," have received little pre-season buzz.

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