Will Legacy TV Networks Ramp Up 'Time Buys'? Sports Deals Could Be A Clue

Sports TV program desperation meets the key TV moment.

Wannabe and well-to-do program producers could do a time buy on a TV network to get placed -- and financially unstable TV companies might just want to go along.

A program ‘time buy’ is where a show's producer pays a TV network/station for air time, in contrast to trying to sell a program to a TV station or network and getting a fee.  Why is this done? A producer can control its content -- and potential advertising. But sometimes it is done out of desperation.

The big, well-funded LIV Golf seemingly can't get a TV network to want to cover its new golf tournament tour in the traditional way – sell programming, get a fee, and have a TV network sell advertising in the show.  Reports say LIV Golf and Fox Sports are considering striking a deal where the financial Saudi-back golf organization could pay a network to get coverage.



Fox Sports has reportedly denied the report. Reaching out to Fox Sports, TV Watch has yet to hear back by press time. LIV Golf has said reports are “incomplete and inaccurate”.

All this brings up questions regarding future programming issues for legacy TV networks against a backdrop of shifting financial dynamics.

TV networks -- perhaps under pressure to find ways to hike revenues -- advertising revenue, distribution revenue and otherwise -- might consider program time buys perhaps in less valuable time periods where it sells advertising time.

Think about your regular mature entertainment cable network. Does your friendly TV producer/studio still want to place its TV series on those cable TV primetime slots? Perhaps they really want Netflix, HBO Max, or Disney+.

But if there are no takers, program producers can try another rarer option: If they had the wherewithal, and financial structure, they could make a time buy on a broadcast and cable TV network.

This has been done in the past with special one-off shows, sporting events, and awards shows. Examples include Major League Baseball's “The Baseball Network” in the mid-1990s, as well as fringe sports programming on regional sports networks. 

Overall mature TV networks want to control their content to fit in with their overall schedule. But more importantly it’s about advertising sales.

Way back at the start of the longtime “Survivor” series on CBS, the TV network let producer Mark Burnett initially control the advertising time for the new reality TV show in the summer 2000. The show was a big success and CBS quickly renewed the show  after its initial summer run. But with one caveat, It would control and sell the advertising time.

This TV network marketplace is very different than it was two decades ago -- with way more competition and slipping overall revenues. Still, rarely are they at the point of giving up any significant programming control just for a few bucks for a series that might go nowhere.

We don't know how TV networks really feel about the need for more professional golf events these days -- or how they would want to transact for that programming. But if there is a way to increase viewer stickiness -- on any part of their schedule -- they might be happy to take a swing.

1 comment about "Will Legacy TV Networks Ramp Up 'Time Buys'? Sports Deals Could Be A Clue".
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  1. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, October 3, 2022 at 4:05 p.m.

    Wayne, for the first ten or twelve years, upwards of 65% of the prime time entertainment shows aired by the broadcast TV networks---as well as many  in other dayparts---were developed by advertisers---"sponsors" ---and under their firm control. The sponsors' ad agencies negotiated with the networks who offered various time slots and they controlled the timeslot selected for an entire year---even if they dumped the program that they debuted in the early fall. In such cases the sponsor came up with a substitute show and the network had to present it.Indeed, program sponsors on CBS and NBC---the dominant networks ----even decided which station affiliates they would pay to carry "their"shows. The two major networks required that the sponsors pay affiliates in the top 55-60 markets. Beyond that it was up to the sponsor. Also, even though a sponsor signed up for only one season at a time, once in a time slot, the advertiser had first dibbs on that slot for the next season.

    Those days are long gone and unlikely to return---except in the least attractive time periods---like 4AM, for example---- where the big guys---CBS. NBC, etc are concerned as well as the larger cable channels. It's possible that a "longtail" cable channel with almost no viewers might be more flexible about this but your hypothetical producer who went ahead and produced a show that Netflix, Disney+, NBC, etc. turned down would find that even if he bought time--- at 9PM on Monday, let's say--- on channel 976----that he was not reaching many viewers or getting much ad revenue.

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