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October 1, 2021


With the 2021-22 TV season upon us, we wondered how many of the new TV shows debuting are likely to still be around next year? We last visited this topic way back in 2014, but found some interesting results after examining subsequent seasons.

But first, some background. In the 1950s, sponsors controlled many primetime programs and new shows were often renewed despite lackluster ratings. However, when the networks took charge of their program lineups and advertisers were relegated mainly to the role of time buyers, the drive to maximize ratings emerged in earnest and upwards of 60-65% of each fall’s new entries were cancelled.

As the demographic revolution in media planning and buying began in the 1960s, primetime entries with older viewer demographics found themselves in jeopardy. The ensuing quest for younger demographics resulted in increased new show mortality rates in the 1970s and 1980s, as younger viewers proved to be fickle and less inclined to become loyal fans of new series, unless the show had exceptional appeal. Contributing to the increasing program mortality rate, mid-season replacements, which have existed since the mid-1960s, often featured less sustainable launches and were often cancelled. The appearance of alternative broadcast networks such as Fox, UPN and the WB in the 1990s further clouded the picture. Such networks’ shows drew ratings in the 3-6% range, which would have assured their cancellation if they ran on ABC, CBS or NBC, but such programs were often retained by the new networks since they were the best of their crop, and they attracted predominantly 18-49-year-old audiences.

Throughout the 1990s, new show mortality rates held at 73-75%, but cancellations declined to about 66% in the early-2000s, thanks to the networks’ participation in profit sharing pacts with some of their producers and the attendant lure of large syndication rerun profits. What we saw from that period until the onset of the COVID epidemic were cancellation rates hovering around 59%, which can likely be attributed to the need to bulk up streaming catalogs to entice viewers. For the current season, we estimate that the mortality rate is at about 45%. That is, 65% of the shows that debuted in 2020-21 are still on-air. This can be attributed to the paucity of new content production during COVID; networks need programming and are more likely to stick with what they have, even if it’s simply to fill a timeslot. Plus, of course, there is the need to feed content to their new streaming services. We will be interested to see if this holds as more content begins to be produced. Stay tuned.


A recent promotional report from Xandr (AT&T) predictably touts the expected growth of “digital” TV advertising in its many forms, but what did surprise us is their acknowledgement of “roadblocks” in the way of its progress. Aside from the implied stupidity of old school legacy advertisers who are "resisting” change, Xandr does note a perfectly understandable "reticence" regarding programmatic buys, including acknowledging a lack of scale.

There are more concerns, however. One is the attempt by many OTT/CTV ad sellers to make buying time on their platforms a "digital" type of buy, handled by digital specialists at the agencies instead of the usual legacy planners and time buyers. That's a big problem as well as a mistake; many of the digital buying methods do not apply to branding advertisers who contribute the vast majority of "linear TV" ad spend. Here we’re not only referring to the "audience" definition and measurement roadblocks but also the ways that ad messages are scheduled and the lack of suitable program environments that advertisers want to be associated with. And then there’s fraud, which is another reason buyers want to deal directly with the sellers.

If OTT/CTV ad sellers want to get more legacy TV ad dollars, they should try to work with the media planners and time buyers who are involved and adopt the many sensible ways that legacy TV is planned and time is bought. This would make dealing with them less like dealing with an alien species. This is essential if OTT/CTV is to become one more basic TV option alongside "legacy TV," instead of as a specialist add-on. There is much to commend OTT/CTV to many advertisers, particularly in conjunction with traditional TV buys, but to make that work OTT/CTV needs to come in out of the cold and join the party in terms of metrics, the ways buys are made and targeting approaches.


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