Every year, the major broadcast networks (ABC, NBC, CBS, FOX, and CW) and major studios (CBS Television, ABC Studios 20th Century FOX Television, Warner Bros. Television, Universal Television, and Sony Pictures Television) roll out their new shows in the hopes that advertisers will pony up big dollars on splashy new products for prime time viewing. With competition from streaming networks and cable companies, the stakes are higher than ever, and creators need to find new ways to make sure their content is going to resonate with an ever-fracturing viewership.
By the numbers
Right off the bat, it’s important to understand that the numbers this year are down from previous years for a variety of reasons. First, almost no shows on the major networks have been canceled this year. That means the studio’s usual mid-season replacement shows will either continue to wait in line or be scrapped altogether. As a result, the studios are less inclined to spend on new shows when they have a backlog waiting in the wings. Second, the studios and networks are competing with a vast number of cable and streaming companies who are fighting over writers, actors, directors, and producers, leaving fewer in-demand talents available.
This year, the five big broadcasters ordered 73 original dramas and comedies, which is down from 88 last year and 98 four years ago. Most of this decline is found at NBC and FOX, which ordered eight and six fewer shows respectively. Studios are also experimenting with some straight-to-series gambles (a la Netflix and HBO) with big ticket shows like Marvel’s The Inhumans on ABC and Young Sheldon, a Big Bang Theory spinoff prequel on CBS.
Finally, there is more and more isolationism happening across the spectrum. The studios are looking to own more of their own content by creating shows specifically for their broadcast partners. This is a direct result of Amazon and Netflix creating thousands of hours of their own content to air on their own platforms. Sales to competitors are still happening–Warner Bros. Television and Universal Television are still creating shows that will air on nearly every other broadcaster–but retrenchment seems to be becoming a more regular thing – CBS Television and ABC Studios have all but abandoned creating new shows for competing broadcasters.
How to compete in a changing landscape
While the market has grown exponentially, content creators still need to find ways to get their material to rise to the top. While Amazon is outside of the broadcast universe, they still hold a pilot season of their own – they recently released five new shows – but what makes them different is the fact that they rely on their own internal viewer data system. Amazon allows consumers to give feedback on what they like the most by enabling them to watch pilots and grade them through online surveys. This helps them ensure a certain level of acceptance from their viewing audience and potentially achieve a greater chance of success.
The broadcasters have turned to data in a way, but they still also rely on traditional focus group processes that aren’t quite as reliable as they used to be (shows get canceled a lot). To employ modern testing methods, similar to how Amazon is getting feedback on their pilots, content creators can explore ways to conduct more engaging and robust viewer studies online. The way Pilotly works is similar to Amazon, but the difference is that creators get nearly instant feedback through a real-time dashboard that can illustrate audience reactions with thousands of data points. If a company wants to know how 37-year-old women who live in urban areas feel about a joke, a segment, or an entire pilot, Pilotly can give them that data with incredible accuracy.
If writers and producers are looking for an edge to ensure their material not only gets to the pilot phase, but to the coveted series order, it’s more important than ever to be armed with data that proves their work is loved before an advertiser even gets a chance to bet on the unknown of a new show. If those creators want to get ahead, they should look to Pilotly to understand their own data before taking their next steps.
Pilotly has also announced their Partner Welcome program during pilot season that gives creators 25% off their first test on an already incredibly cost-effective research platform.