Taking Risk out of a ‘Risky Business’

Taking Risk out of a ‘Risky Business’

While Hollywood is largely seen as glitz, glamour, wealth and success, the industry data and audience trends paint a very different picture.  Over the past 3 years, from the 2009-2010 through 2011-2012 TV seasons, there have been 126 new Network TV shows that were put on air.  Of that group, only 41 (33%) made it into a second year.  Based solely on the odds, in the current system, the chance of identifying a successful show is less than a coin toss.

This high failure rate does not even take into account the number of pilots produced that were not picked up.  When looking across networks, none had a success rate above 50%.  CBS, the most successful network according to the primetime ratings, had a 35% success rate.

What about the aggressive pursuit of Reality programming?  Only 17% of new Reality shows made it into Year 2.  Even these numbers are inflated though, as they look only at shows that made it on air and do not reflect the number of scripts or pilots each network produces (or acquires).

 “Remember those shows we were so excited about last fall? We cancelled all of them. And yet here you are again. You might have a gambling problem.”

            Jimmy Kimmel, ABC upfront 2012

But what about the conventional wisdom that suggests that network executives can spot great creative and know what will and won’t work?  Or what about the idea that they can see where the audience is headed and can get out in front of the trends?  Let’s look at a few data points from a study that we ran in the Spring of 2012 that included over 1,500 Adults and over 700 Tweens and match it up with what we see happening in the marketplace.

The perceived trend on network TV (as stated by US TV watchers) has certainly been to push the boundaries and to pursue ‘edgy’ as much as possible within the FCC guidelines.  Only 35% of Adults and 42% of Tweens were Satisfied or Very Satisfied with the amount of ‘current TV options for programs with strong, positive values’.  In addition, 57% of Tweens agreed with the statement ‘I think there are limits on how far Hollywood should go content-wise when releasing films intended for teenagers and I think they’ve already gone too far’.

In 1987 and 1988, the Cosby show garnered 30.5 Million viewers.  Today, shows like American Idol and Big Bang Theory are among the weekly ratings winners averaging 19.8 Million and 15.8 Million viewers respectively down between 35 – 50% in comparison.

Certainly, fragmentation of media plays a role in the network viewership decline, but our data suggests that most viewers look to traditional places like network TV and movie theaters as their first choice for entertainment and only when they cannot find something that they want to watch do they migrate to other channels and to on-line viewing.   The sustained growth in viewership of cable and on-line channels further confirms that viewers are seeking great programming and increasingly have to look beyond the traditional networks to satisfy their entertainment appetite.

“How many times do I have to tell you this bull****?  We have no idea what people want to see. If we did, we wouldn’t have an upfront. We’d just run the shows, and you’d send us a check”

Jimmy Kimmel, ABC upfront 2012

With the ever-expanding number of options available for programming, it is more important than ever for creatives and entertainment executives to listen to the audience when developing, funding, promoting and airing new content.  While each network, studio or creative team can point to a surprising success story, the empirical data shows that a concept selection process that excludes or ignores the input of the target audience has a much higher probability of failure than success.

With the rapid expansion of new technology into the entertainment space, in order to be successful, one must recognize that the historical track record of network TV success is low, the audience has more quality options than ever before, and the tools to determine audience receptivity are better than ever before.  Those that are willing to innovate, adapt and listen to the consumer will be best positioned to be successful in the long run.

As we look ahead, we will continue to follow network success rates and other quantitative measures and will share those results.  We also will be looking into theatrical success and some audience comparisons that will shed new light into the power and reach of various media platforms.  Be sure to check our website: FrontPorchResearch.com or follow us on Facebook to make sure you get our new whitepapers when they are released.

Taking Risk out of a ‘Risky Business’Taking Risk out of a ‘Risky Business’ - Download