1. How do you solve a problem like Thursday Night Football?
CBS won the bidding war against NBC, ABC and ESPN to broadcast the NFL's Thursday schedule and will begin airing the games September 11 for seven weeks, delaying the launch of the Eye's Thursday lineup. For CEO Les Moonves and CBS Entertainment chairman Nina Tassler, the no-brainer course of action would be to shift monster hit The Big Bang Theory to Mondays during that period to help launch new comedy How I Met Your Dad, then send it back to Thursdays after the Chargers face the Broncos in the final matchup on October 23.
But how will the competition react to the TNF threat? ABC stands to weather the storm better than others, given the hard-core female fanbase of Grey's Anatomy and Scandal. NBC and Fox, however, are already trying to rebuild their Thursday nights, and football will only make that task tougher.
The plus side for the Peacock is that it's hard to imagine its numbers sinking even further — the night's current best performer is five-year-old Parenthood, with a 1.3 average (L+SD) in 18-49 — and the audience makeup (younger, wealthier, highly educated) means the network can still hit its targets.
Counterprogramming will also be the course of action at Fox, and though instinct might warn against premiering new shows against TNF, "programming out of fear is not the way to lead you to the front of the pack," says one Fox executive.
2. Why did Disney/ABC re-up Paul Lee's contract?
No fewer than six of ABC's new series flamed out during the 2013-14 season, and the network is poised to finish in fourth place for the third year in a row. The Tuesday 10pm slot alone saw three dramas come and go within a six-month period (each posted demo ratings of 1.0 or less), while the network's comedy development hasn't seen an unqualified success since Modern Family launched six years ago. This record would be grounds for dismissal anywhere else. But sources say ABC Entertainment Group president Lee was probably extended because he is a team player, smart, and also plays a role in Disney CEO Bob Iger's succession plan.
And it's not all bad news for Lee. ABC does very well with women 18-49 and 18-34, and, in Scandal, boasts one of only five returning broadcast series that averaged above a 3.0 demo rating (L+SD) this season. The series is also the top 10pm broadcast show in the C3 adults 18-49 demo, which is crucial on Thursdays, when retail and movie-studio spending is high. And if you consider Grey's Anatomy's continued strength, Shark Tank's Friday success and the fact that the network has few sporting events to boost its averages, it's easier to see why Iger and new Disney/ABC Television Group president Ben Sherwood are keeping Lee around.
3. Fox: No X Factor, no problem?
The X Factor initially demanded high advertising rates that offset the show's massive production costs. But demo ratings tumbled to a 1.8 average for Wednesday's performance nights in 2013, and the network ultimately opted not to green-light a fourth season.
With American Idol also a ratings mess, Fox Entertainment chairman Kevin Reilly faces some serious challenges next season. At least he has some intriguing options in the works: Batman prequel Gotham, Gracepoint (a remake of the U.K. series Broadchurch) and the Rainn Wilson vehicle Backstrom are all highly anticipated projects; last fall's hit Sleepy Hollow returns for a second season, while Bones comes back for its 10th. On the unscripted side, Fox is taking a gamble on the elaborate Utopia, which will dump 15 strangers in the middle of nowhere and give them a year to create their own civilization from scratch. The show will premiere in the fall and initially take up at least a few hours of schedule real estate.
4. What does a Steve Koonin-less Turner look like?
Koonin recently ended his 14-year tenure at Turner to become CEO for the NBA's Atlanta Hawks. The shift naturally raised a few eyebrows, given the recent departures of ad chief Greg D'Alba and Turner Animation head Stuart Snyder. Still, the behind-the-scenes upheaval is unlikely to have much of an impact on the market. One buyer did mourn the loss of Koonin's showmanship but also noted, "At the end of the day, TBS is still airing The Big Bang Theory."
The current slate of programming for the Turner networks was developed under Koonin, so it's hard to say if even bigger changes are in store. But TNT's summer schedule already indicates more creative ambition than in previous years. Postapocalyptic drama The Last Ship and spy series Legends (starring Game of Thrones' Sean Bean) in particular represent a departure from the Rizzoli & Isles/Franklin & Bash procedural brand, a move TNT programming chief Michael Wright says is designed to bring in a different kind of viewer. "We appreciate the audiences that are already coming to the network, even if they've aged along with the shows they loyally watch," he says. "But we're embracing the video-on-demand world that allows viewers to sample and engage with a broader range of genres and stories."
5. Is this the dawning of the age of C7?
If advertisers are willing to pay for a commercial that's seen by a viewer three days after it initially airs, why can't they spring for one that's seen seven days later? That's the big question the networks keep asking as time-shifting and DVR playback are happening in half of all TV households.
Currently most ad deals are made based on C3 data, which averages the commercial views from DVR playback and various on-demand platforms. But the significant ratings lift that shows see with the addition of seven days of DVR viewing has had the networks clamoring to sell off of C7 numbers (CBS's Moonves, in particular, has been very vocal about getting paid for impressions four days past the C3 window), and more and more ad agencies are beginning to listen.
Several sellers we spoke to say they intend to negotiate using C7 data, especially if they can run their spots in episodes available through video-on-demand services. "If ads are being seen after three days, or there's the possibility of dynamic ad insertion, and the advertisers agree up front to that, the networks should be getting paid," says Brad Adgate, senior vice president of research at Horizon Media. "That's good for everyone. We don't want to run the networks out of business."
But is the ad viewing that takes place in the additional four days of DVR playback really worth all the trouble? Fox Cable Networks ad sales president Lou LaTorre said at the FX upfront that he regularly sees increases of 6 to 8 percent in the extra four days counted by C7; increases on the broadcast side are a little more modest, on average, but growing steadily year over year.
Those percentages seldom translate to more than a tenth or two of a ratings point. It's likely that movie studios with a weekend release and retailers touting a sale will stick to C3 due to the time-sensitivity of their messages. Packaged-goods marketers and automotive companies, however, may be more open to C7. But, as with every aspect of the upfront, it's all about the deal.