January may be the real start of the prime-time entertainment season: Viewers and TV marketers should beware of false starts.
Major TV series debut and returning efforts hope to give networks a second chance at delivering some substantial TV viewership -- something lacking since the season started weakly in the third week in September.
So much so, media executives say significant make-good commercial inventory (audience deficiency units) issues arose -- stemming from major gaps in ratings guarantees made in the upfront period for advertisers.
NBC’s returning drama “Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist” and new Canadian drama “Nurses” started January 5. New comedy "Mr. Mayor," starring Ted Danson, begins January 7. CBS' returning comedies -- “Young Sheldon” and “Mom” -- start January 14. Fox’s returning dramas “911” and “911: Lone Star” kick off January 18.
ABC sent out “The Bachelor on January 4. “The Good Doctor” begins January 11 for a fourth season. Two days later on January 13, ABC starts four comedies -- three returning shows -- The Goldbergs,” “American Housewife” and “The Conners” -- and a new show “Call Your Mother.” The seventh season of “Black-ish” launches January 26.
The CW gives another go for “Riverdale” and “Nancy Drew” (January 20). “Charmed” airs January 24.
All this is in addition to a slew of original streaming content -- many are coming with the launch of discovery+ (January 4), as well as new shows on Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and other platforms.
Much of the delayed start has been due to the pandemic. Many productions resumed completed production by the late November/December before the current pandemic spike.
In addition to these scheduled programs, almost 30 other broadcast prime-time shows are, as yet, unscheduled. While some of this is expected at this time of year, the pandemic continues to throw more wrenches in the works.
And then there’s California. Growing COVID-19 infections in the state -- where plenty of TV and film production continues to take place -- could see more postponements/delays -- at least for the next several weeks.
On Sunday, SAG-AFTRA, the Joint Policy Committee and the Producers Guild of America recommended a "temporary hold on in-person production" amid the pandemic. Major studios and streamers are already on production hiatus in Southern California until mid-January.
The current infection rise would put TV networks/streaming networks on the back foot again -- possibly hurting late spring/summer scheduling for TV networks.
All to say if you were expecting a return-to-normal prime-time performance -- a more typical high-single-digit to low-double-digit percentage rating declines -- you might have to find another silver lining.
And if you are a TV marketer looking to get whole in terms of your media deals -- visa-vis your prime-time TV networks entertainment schedules -- take a deep breath.