For TV Networks, Fewer Pilots: Shows Faster To Market -- Or Just More Content?

Lesser program R&D from TV networks? Step up to the plate and swing.

Ampere Analysis says there is a sharp downturn in the five top English-language broadcast TV networks when it comes to producing TV "pilots." Ampere says there are 32% fewer pilots now in 2019 for TV networks than four years ago -- just 73 titles this year, down from 106 in 2015.

Pilots are essentially testing episodes for TV networks -- to determine whether a sample of potential consumers is interested. Pilots moving ahead can be the basis for going ahead with 9-, 13-, or full 22-episode-long orders for parts or all of a TV season.

Of course, we can take a good guess why this is declining: TV networks want to save some big bucks.

Hour-long pilot dramas can be anywhere from $3 million to $5 million, and somewhat less for half-hour comedies -- either for studio audience-based “three-camera” efforts or “single-camera” shows.



Much of this is also about speed to market. For example, the likes of Netflix, Amazon and other new, digital-based premium video programming services don't participate in traditional pilots, or pilot seasons, which run in the fall for possible start-up for the following season.

This deceleration began more than a decade and a half ago when TV networks realized that new TV productions were needed in a year-round process, where quicker decisions must be made. Still, this didn't discount audience testing -- where third-party services ask prospective viewers about characters, actors, and storylines, which can then be adjusted or dropped.

Fewer pilots could also mean TV networks needing to give the thumbs up or thumbs down quickly to keep top-flight TV producers/showrunners happy. Increased competition from new streaming networks will give some high-profile TV producers more final cut control. 

Also consider this: There is more TV network/streaming program turnover among some major TV-video providers. Netflix, for example, is said to be cancelling more shows sooner -- with series only lasting one, two, or three seasons.

Can TV networks, viewers, and even TV advertisers keep pace -- going on autopilot?

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