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MBPT Spotlight: If Content is King, There’s a Lot of Royalty for Broadcast Networks This Season

As the curtain rises on a new broadcast season, a familiar question remains: Can the broadcast networks put an end to its fading rating supply?

Faced with increased options on TV and increased video options in general, the task of growing ratings for any network is a daunting one. If the past few years are any indication, that goal is best reached when a network rides the coattails of one stand-out show. A lot of this has happened on cable as shows such as The Walking Dead, Duck Dynasty and Sons of Anarchy have single-handedly lifted a network’s average audience. And last year proved that the formula works on the broadcast side as The Voice enabled NBC to post modest increases.

We’re not sure what the odds are of launching a program that can provide a huge lift, but the networks seem like they want to enhance their chances by increasing their number of new shows. Just like a person buying numerous lottery tickets, thinking they have a better chance of winning, the networks have loaded their schedules with programs ready to shuffle in and out of the lineup all year.

Twenty-six new programs are set to premiere sometime this fall, up from 21 a year ago. And that’s the tip of the iceberg. Over the course of the season, ABC, CBS, The CW, Fox and NBC have announced plans for 51 new programs, 15 more than were announced a year ago. This does not include more shows that are developed throughout the season and likely to secure a place on the schedule later in the year.

In order to find a place for all this content, unique scheduling strategies are in place. First, this is the year of “limited series.” There are several shows for which networks committed to only 12-15 episodes. These series will have original episodes every week and at the end of their run will be replaced with another new show. CBS is doing this with Hostages, a Monday night drama that will end in December, to be replaced in the schedule by another limited series, Intelligence. ABC, Fox and NBC all have similar plans with several shows.

Second, many series will bookend the year with two seasons, a fall and a spring, and in between will be another new series or returning show. ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy and Revenge will follow this blueprint, with each show having a December finale only to return sometime in the spring and conclude the year with the typical finale in May.

While this keeps the content flowing, it also eliminates repeats. Last year, a repeat of Grey’s Anatomy on ABC generated a rating about one-third of what an original episode earned. This year, ABC hopes the show Resurrection, which will bridge the gap between the two partial seasons of Grey’s, will produce a much higher rating than a Grey’s repeat.

Speaking Broadly

The networks also are embracing their “broad” status. Many new shows are intended to appeal to the masses instead of a more niche old or young, male or female audience. Therefore, “family” comedies are replacing “workplace” comedies where there are characters intended to appeal to all audiences. Many of these sitcoms have a child, a parent and an older parent, providing a little something for everyone. Expect to see sisters, brothers, in-laws, best friends and neighbors to round out the spectrum.

Dramas are geared to bring in more men, thus providing a little gender balance. But the claim that the networks are trying to appeal to men is only half right. The idea is to attract men while not alienating the female audience that makes up the majority of television viewership.

On The CW, gone are shows such as One Tree Hill and Gossip Girl; they’ve been replaced with shows such as Arrow and The Tomorrow People. There is plenty of action (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.) and intrigue (Dracula) coming this season, and for every strong male lead (James Spader in Blacklist and Dylan McDermott in Hostages), there is a strong female colead (Megan Boone and Toni Collette, respectively).

We have already seen enough clips, slow-motion scenes with beautiful music, and promotion that makes every show seem like a theatrical release. The most important thing, however, is yet to be discovered: what the viewers think. In the end, content is king, but viewers still rule the TV kingdom.