June/July 2012
Volume 32 No. 4

May 2012
View complete issue as a PDF»

Risk and Reward is a Fine Balance in Today’s Television Schedules

By Bob Jenkins

Wherever one looks, schedules are packed with revivals of successes from bygone decades and multiple seasons of hit shows — and apparently this has nothing to do with money.

MortenJan Salling, Sales director of Nordic World, admitted, “There has been a spate of revivals of old classics recently in Scandinavia. Fort Boyard, Big Brother, Gladiators, all these and more have been revived recently, and it is also certainly the case that successful shows are commissioned in great volume and played for several seasons a year — and there is an obvious economic advantage to that.” Salling feels that, “In addition to relatively safe and cheap ratings points there is also a benefit to a broadcaster, especially in the case of reviving a classic, of boosting brand value. Audiences remember the old shows and feel a warm nostalgia for them.”

This is a view shared by Jens Richter, managing director of Germany’s SevenOne International, who insisted, “While there is definitely a trend towards revivals of old successes, I am not convinced this is driven by difficult economic times for broadcasters. Times are more economically challenging for audiences and old favorites, from a time they remember as being more economically secure, allow them to see life through rose-tinted spectacles!” Although he also cautioned that, “Revival is OK for certain entertainment/game shows, but it doesn’t really work for reality or drama. This is because they are both character driven, and also [because] the way drama is done these days is so very different from the way in which it was done even five years ago, the chances of a successful revival are very slim.”

But there are other factors at play here. Morten Aass, CEO of Stockholm, Sweden-based NICE Entertainment Group highlighted an increasing focus by management on making every slot profitable, and, as he noted, “Once this was best achieved through acquisition since, even though you got lower ratings, the cost of acquisition was around one tenth of that of local production, but this is no longer the case and, as a consequence, local production has increased dramatically over the past few years.”

And Nordic World’s Salling added: “Many of these older shows are being revived on smaller digital channels. This is part of an overall strategy by the main broadcasters who are losing market share on their main channels, but, by building these smaller channels, are maintaining, or even growing, their overall market share.”

In London, Greg Phillips, president, Content Television and Content Digital, acknowledged the benefits of revivals and long-runs of successful shows but cautioned, “As with all things in life there has to be a balance here. Ordering in bulk, especially with game shows, talent shows and reality makes a saving, but there is always the risk that the show will die, or trail off, and the broadcaster will be left with episodes they know will not rate, but which they still have to play, as they have paid for them.” Phillips also warned, “While audiences do have a tendency to watch shows with which they are familiar, there will come a point when they are bored with that show, and the very familiarity which once caused them to switch on, will now cause them to switch off.” He added, “While there are savings in bulk orders and revivals save on development costs, these savings represent a nice bonus rather than a reason for making a positive commissioning decision.”

With regards to whether these costs savings are enough to make a positive commissioning decision or not, that option is not always open to a broadcaster.

Rob Clark, director of Global Entertainment Development for FremantleMedia in the U.K. insisted, “While it is true that many broadcasters want to play successful shows in bulk, and that does offer a lower cost per episode, not all producers/IP holders will let them do this. At Fremantle we only have one season a year of our three big entertainments formats, Idol, Got Talent and X-Factor. Some broadcasters actually like this because it gives a certain geography to their schedule, and print and Internet media know what’s coming and what they will have to write about and when.”

Valerie Cabrera, executive vice president of Entertainment One Television International in Los Angeles agreed: “Typically we run one season per year, but with The Firm, for example, we went straight to 22 episodes, so there is no formula here — it’s on a show-by-show basis.” Cabrera went on to suggest that, “Unfortunately there’s no real safe approach when it comes to knowing which shows will be successful and which will not be successful.”

This is a view shared by Content’s Phillips, who said, “There are no absolutes in television. There are no absolute guaranteed ratings winners, and there are no absolute programming policies either. One week I’ll offer a broadcaster something absolutely new and fresh and they’ll tell me they’re sticking with the tried and tested and the next time I speak to them, they’ll tell me they’re looking for something new and untried.”

Whatever the broadcast policy, and whatever the reasons behind it, one thing all the executives interviewed agreed on is that no broadcaster can live without innovation.
NICE’s Aass was adamant that “audiences will reward channels that are creative and risk taking. When they turn on a channel and find they’re watching season 10 of Fort Boyard, they tend to turn over!”

Content’s Phillips concurred, pointing out, “Broadcasters need to be aware that they are not just competing with each other, but are also in competition with all other forms of home entertainment such as gaming and social networking. And, if that were not reason enough to prompt innovation, producers should always remember that if they do not take risks they’ll never be the next Simon Cowell, and broadcasters need to keep in mind that without backing those risks, they’ll never have the next Britain’s Got Talent!”