Industry Forecast: More Turmoil Ahead For Schedules, Platforms and Channels

For the television industry, events in 2016 proved to be unpredictable and at times overwhelming as the continued evolution of where, when and how viewers watch video content forced a number of unexpected turns for both traditional cable television providers and emerging online streaming services. Now, with 2017 ushering in a new, media savvy U.S. president as well as the promise of new players in the content development and distribution game, trying to prognosticate what will transpire in the television arena over the next 12 months is difficult at best.

Still, several trends are emerging from 2016 that will continue to affect how video content is created and distributed in a very crowded television environment.

Cable networks will offer up more binge-friendly scheduling:

Cable networks will continue to follow the Netflix playbook of launching all episodes of new and existing scripted series at the same time to build buzz and marketing momentum in a noisy TV landscape that saw 455 scripted series offered to viewers in 2016. Whether such efforts are like Starz’s simultaneous online streaming of all 13 episodes of its drama series The Girlfriend Experience this past April or TBS’s 10-episode rollout of freshman dramedy series Search Party over five consecutive days during this past Thanksgiving week, networks will experiment with series scheduling to give viewers a chance to ingest full doses of their favorite shows in a short period of time. Also, more networks will turn to social-media outlets such as Facebook Live and YouTube to offer full-length premiere episodes of new series days and weeks prior to their debuts on linear to drive awareness and exposure in a crowded environment.

A greater multicultural presence in front of and behind the camera:

People of color will take the lead both in front of and behind the camera in more scripted series in 2017 as networks look to reach young, diverse millennial audiences who in 2016 flocked to such shows as FX’s Atlanta, produced by and starring Donald Glover, and HBO’s Insecure, created by and starring actress and popular online personality Issa Rae. Both series generated strong ratings and critical acclaim, as well as 2017 Golden Globe nominations. Speaking of awards, the 2016 Emmy Awards featured a record 21 nominations for actors, directors and writers of color, a number that could easily be topped in 2017 as cable networks greenlight more multicultural-themed projects led by people of color.

Live programming goes digital:

Traditional cable bundles have always relied on DVR-proof live sports and news to be a strong weapon against emerging competition from OTT services like Netflix, Hulu and Amazon. But social-media companies like Facebook and Twitter will continue to secure rights to stream live sports events like Twitter’s recent live game deals with the National Football League, Major League Baseball and the National Hockey League, as well as breaking news events such as the 2016 presidential debates. Social media by nature operates in real time, so companies like Facebook, Snapchat and Twitter will continue to look for opportunities to maximize its appeal to audiences by locking up rights to popular live content that has traditionally been the purview of linear TV channels.

More fringe cable nets will bite the dust:

As cable operators and over the top services migrate toward “skinny” bundles that feature far fewer channels than the traditional cable bundle, smaller, niche networks will find it hard to survive, and several will eventually go out of business in 2017. In 2016 networks like Al Jazeera America, Pivot and, more recently, Poker Central pulled the plug on their respective linear channels because (among other reasons) the prospects of expanding subscriber numbers were limited. Expect more channels to follow suit in 2017 as new virtual MVPD offerings from Hulu and Google join the likes of Sling TV, Sony PlayStation Vue and DirecTV Now in providing low-cost video services with a limited number of channels.

True crime will continue to arrest viewers:

The critical acclaim and ratings success in 2016 of the true crime genre both in scripted and reality programming formats, including such shows as Netflix’s Making a Murderer and FX’s The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story will yield even more projects in 2017. The audience-appealing mix of drama, intrigue and historical relevance will continue to drive the genre as more networks — and high-profile performers — jump on the bandwagon. Already scheduled for 2017 are projects from Jay Z (Spike TV’s docuseries Time: The Kalief Browder Story) as well as docu-specials on the 25th anniversary of the Los Angeles riots after acquittals of police officers who had beaten Rodney King and the 40th anniversary of the Son of Sam serial killings in New York. FX will explore the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 in the second installment of its anthology scripted series American Crime Story.

Trump Joins C-SPAN’s Gallery of Presidents

Donald Trump is going on a nationwide tour courtesy of your local cable operators — or at least a likeness of him is.

C-SPAN, the suite of public interest platforms created and supported by the cable industry, has unveiled a Trump portrait that will join 44 others in C-SPAN’s “American Presidents: Life Portraits” exhibit that has been touring the country since 1999, when it was created as an adjunct to the Peabody Award-winning series of the same name.

All the paintings are by a single artist, Chas Fagan, whose credits also include the official canonization portrait of Mother Teresa. Fagan said Trump’s eyes were the toughest part of the portrait, telling C-SPAN: “In most photos, his eyes are in shadow and difficult to see, in part due to his distinctive brow line. But eyes are such a recognizable feature, and necessary to give a portrait warmth and personality, so I worked to give them a bit more prominence.”

The free exhibit has followed the campaign trails of the last five presidential elections, including debates, primaries and convention cities.

Next stop for the exhibit is the William McKinley Presidential Library & Museum in Canton, Ohio, on Feb. 24, which will also mark the first official Trump portrait visit. Trump has been likened to McKinley, the Republican trade protectionist and tariff defender, who was assassinated in 1901.

— John Eggerton

R. Thomas Umstead

R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.