Recently the business of television was on full display as the networks spent tons of money trying to convince advertisers, investors, and audiences that their new slate of programming is the most profitable. Now with the “upfront” season over, all attention turns to the summer where the networks will look to keep their momentum going into the all-important fall season. Here’s a look at how each of the broadcast (ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, The CW), cable and pay cable networks are approaching TV’s summer vacation.
Up until last year CBS’ summer strategy was simple…Big Brother and repeats. Yes, it wasn’t flashy, but it worked. In fact up until last year the network seemed content with that strategy, but then came Under the Dome and with that a new business model was born.
Big Ticket Blockbusters
You can understand why over the years CBS was so at ease with the status quo. It’s been the number one network more times in the last decade than any of its rivals and it has cultivated a stable of hit series that are strong encore performers. However once executives began noticing other networks having summer success they too wanted to play in the same sandbox.
Enter Under the Dome, which from a top tier prospective owned the summer in 2013. With 13.5 million views and a 3.3 rating in the all-important advertiser coveted 18-49 demographic, it became the most watched series premiere on broadcast TV since 2007 (when NBC’s The Singing Bee snared 13.3 million) and the most watched on CBS since Big Brother first bowed in 2000 (with 22.3 million). Based on the book by horror master Stephen King and made entirely with his blessing, the show took audiences (and analysts) by storm.
As a result of that success, this summer the network is doubling down on big ticket summer series by adding Extant to its roster. From producer Steven Spielberg and starring Oscar winner Halle Berry, the sci-fi thriller will air on CBS Wednesdays and many are wondering if the added star appeal will boost Extant past Dome’s opening mark. This could be the series of the summer and if so it will give CBS’ summer market share an incredible bump as all of a sudden the Eye network won’t just be playing in the same sandbox, it could probably start charging rent.
Now while Dome and Extant are enough of a summer platform, CBS has two more dramas coming off the bench. One of which is Unforgettable, a series that lived up to its name. Originally a fall TV priority the show was cut when its ratings eventually dipped. Despite putting up respectable numbers, the network needed that prime time real estate back so it could roll the dice in the fall with a new series.
However as many investors and analyst point out every year… a CBS flop is a hit somewhere else; in this case that place just happened to also be CBS. Recognizing the show had a following, executives took the unusual move of resurrecting the series and giving it a summer home. It’s a strategy that’s worked and could possibly be duplicated down the line with other shows previously marked for cancelation.
The Poppy Montgomery/Dylan Baker led series is a good utility player for the network and has proven there are other options than just canceling a series that still has a fan base. Although CBS is also using the summer to launch one of its final pickups from last pilot season…Reckless. Set in Charleston, South Carolina the legal drama follows two lawyers fighting their feelings for each other as they work try to investigate the truth behind a police sex scandal.
It’s not your usual CBS procedural but given the network’s track record with venturing out of its comfort zone (i.e. Hostages, Harper’s Island) you can understand why it was slotted for the summer. Executives are hoping to give the show a “guilty pleasure” vibe and positioning in on Sundays give should help with that goal.
However the ultimate summer guilty pleasure is still Big Brother which will return again for its 16th season. Along with Survivor and The Amazing Race, Big Brother is one of the network’s big three reality competition franchises and over the last few seasons has really come into its own. It is pure escapism and voyeurism and its sells every time.
From product integrations to online subscriptions to added value for CBS subsidiaries like the TV Guide Network, this is a low-cost, high-profit series. Even with last season’s “houseguests” and their even more than usual outlandish behavior the show kept its core viewer base entertained. While the numbers slipped a little over the season, it still ended up in all key measures and viewers are ready to move back in for another summer of fun.
In just a few years CBS has completely changed its approach to programming the summer and it’s an example other network should follow…even if they’ve been in the space for years. TV is changing medium and if you can’t adapt, chances are another network will.
Disclosure: Austin Smith does not have a financial interest in any of the companies mentioned here. Brett Gold, who helped write this piece, owns shares of CBS.