2012 may be the “year of the talk show,” but with talk now thoroughly saturating the daytime market, syndicators hope it’s also the year of innovation.
With four new talk shows—Disney/ABC Television’s Katie (Couric), NBCUniversal’s Steve Harvey, CBS Television Distribution’s Jeff Probst and Twentieth Television’s Ricki Lake—headed to daytime this fall, it’s an open secret that not all of these shows will make it to year two. That means syndicators are already planning for 2013’s open slots, even though they don’t know yet what those slots will be.
“We certainly are looking ahead to what we want to start launching in 2013,” says Stephen Brown, Twentieth senior vice president of programming and development. “Remember how early the selling process started for this year? That may be a trend. The days of doing a pilot at Christmas and selling the show in January are over.”
Right now, syndicators are facing a strong buyer’s market. There are so many shows in the mix that stations in mid- and smaller-sized markets have their pick and can practically set their own price.
“There’s too much competition in the marketplace for time slots, and that affects the cash, clearance depth and the quality of the clearance,” says Mort Marcus, copresident of Debmar- Mercury. “All of those things are going to affect the profitability of these shows. Every single show is going to get hit on the sides with a 5% drop here and an 8% drop there. Everything is going to get just a little bit worse. Consumers have so many talk shows to watch next year.”
That bother for syndicators is a boon for TV stations, which have not had this many shows to choose from in years.
“In a year where there’s not a huge off-net sitcom premiering, we’re going to be adding a lot of product,” says one station manager. “I’m looking forward to putting together some schedules with a lot of new fresh stuff on them.”
“In the end, [all of these new shows] may fritter away everyone’s ratings a little bit, but it’s good for TV stations and for consumers to have more choices. Right now, they’ve got more shows to choose from for less money,” says Marcus.
Looking ahead, what stations and consumers need is a greater variety of formats, say syndicators.
“When you look at the attrition of ratings that we’ve had in daytime, you have to think about why that’s happened,” says Brown. “Women are spending a lot of time watching cable and online, on places like Facebook, chatting with their friends and playing games. We need to ! gure out how to tap into that.”
And in the wake of Oprah’s departure, daytime audiences still are looking for their “girlfriend.” Both Disney/ABC and Twentieth hope they have her with Katie Couric and Ricki Lake. But should audiences not cotton to either, developers are shaking the trees to find her. Sony has a show with Queen Latifah in the works that could fit the bill.
One area that is lacking, now that only four soap operas remain, is romance.
“I’m getting a lot of pitches for relationship and dating shows,” says Brown. “I think it’s a viable format that’s had a rest and is now going to come back. But if you come in with a show in which the contestants are sitting in a hot tub with their tops off, advertisers will flee. It has to be more about relationships and romance.”
Brown is also taking women’s daily habits into consideration as he ponders how to shake up syndication. “If you think about what this audience does on a daily basis, they play a lot of casual games like Bejeweled, Farmville and Words With Friends.”
That said, “nobody is pitching games,” says Brown. A few years ago, games were all the rage, with syndicators launching inexpensive syndicated shows out of primetime games such as NBCU’s Deal or No Deal and Twentieth’s Are You Smarter than a Fifth Grader and Don’t Forget the Lyrics. Those programs failed to take off in daytime; today, only four game shows—CTD’s Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy!, Debmar-Mercury’s Family Feud and Disney/ABC’s Who Wants to be a Millionaire— remain.
Brown admits that “nobody wants to watch anyone play Bejeweled on TV,” but what he is trying to unlock is a show that taps into the same habitforming nature of those simple online games.
“I think there’s still a place for games in daytime if you can create a game where there’s massive play appeal and online extensions, and it’s a place where people can connect to each other and win money,” says Brown.
While daytime formats need some freshening, the core of what drives daily tune-in is the connection a show’s host or panelists have with their audience, says Brown. “What counts is that the viewer wants to spend an hour with these people,” he says. “The audience has to want to be friends with whoever is on that screen.”
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