Expect Shorter Network TV Seasons

Traditional TV networks' cost-savings don’t just come with layoffs; there’s fewer episodes of a TV series to consider.

In the past, ongoing TV comedies and dramas have seen anywhere from 22 to 24 episodes per season. Now, for the coming season of new shows, set to start next month, CBS has staked out a post-pandemic world. Its shows will see 16 to 18 episodes for the season.

Beyond this, it has been a different competitive environment.

Netflix, Amazon and especially many traditional cable TV networks, can offer nine, 10, or just 13 episodes seasons for certain shows. Plus, on the streaming platforms, subscribers can blow through all of them in a weekend. And that meant more TV/movie production at streamers.



Can legacy TV networks keep up? All this is occurring as TV networks look to sustain the ad-supported network model -- where big-brand advertising is sold all year long.

Imagine if broadcast networks were to schedule -- in a linear TV way -- a season worth of 20 or some odd episodes of “NCIS” over say a week-long Tuesday to Friday period. That would be chaos.

But now think ahead five, seven, 10 years from now? Legacy TV network companies could get to a new tipping point, when their streaming platforms -- Peacock, Disney+, Paramount+, or whatever -- could see more original prime-time-quality shows than on live, linear TV networks.

Legacy TV networks’ businesses -- especially those with streaming platforms -- will need to adapt to a different model, one where subscription fees will be more of factor, working alongside lesser advertising loads but higher pricing.

The goal would be produce even more overall TV series -- ones with limited numbers of episodes per season, as well as shorter overall series lives. (Netflix exemplifies the latter.)

In the interim, a bigger question is: How long can major TV brand advertisers -- buying in perhaps a dwindling upfront advertising market -- stay with the program?

1 comment about "Expect Shorter Network TV Seasons".
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  1. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, October 29, 2020 at 2:07 p.m.

    Wayne, the broadcast TV networks began ordering many fewer episodes---like as few as 8-13---many years ago on primetime series shows they were uncertain about so this is nothing new. As for shorter seasons, we have had second seasons since 1966 and third seasons starting informally and not on an across-the- board basis around May or June are not uncommon. So long as the networks and major cable players are able to control the "linearTV" advertising marketplace via the upfront process, I see no reason why they should truncate their seasons beyond what they are now doing. A typical primetime season, which extends from October to the following September, in reality consists of several mini seasons, overlapped by the larger fall introductions which do not get cancelled and continue for the entire period. Just because many SVOD/AVOD shows get relatively smaller orders for new episodes  is no reason for changing everything. Many of the new streaming programs have, as their primary function, the luring of new subscribers. They are not, necesssarily, tied to advertising cycles. This may change as AVOD becomes more important to the networks' bottom line---but that may take a few years tp develop.

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