Broadcast network television may not command the audience that it once could, but it still very much matters to advertisers for one simple reason: There’s nowhere else they can put their products in front of a few million Americans at once. Many of the most watched programs have moved to premium cable channels like HBO or to streaming services like Netflix, which are not ad-supported. That has limited advertisers ability to reach huge audiences. However, even a modestly successful broadcast network show can reach 4 or 5 million viewers, which is still more exposure than an ad buyer can gain anywhere else. That access is hugely important to, say, a movie studio trying to promote its latest new release. Internet banner ads and preroll advertisements can only go so far, which means a show like, for instance, Fresh Off the Boat — 4.4 million viewers with an identifiable demographic — can command even more money per viewer than could shows with an amorphous audience of 15 million back in the 1990s.
In other words, no entity is more important to the success of a new network series than the people who pay for them: Advertisers. The upfronts each year are specifically designed for ad buyers to find their favorite new shows to advertise on. Their opinion matters, and according to a Media Life poll of media buyers, here’s what those ad buyers think of the new fall offerings:
1. ABC’s Designated Survivor
2. CBS’s Bull
3. NBC’s Timeless
4. CBS’s MacGyver
5. NBC’s This Is Us
Based on the results of the most promising shows and the comments from media buyers, it’s easy to see why networks keep churning out the familiar: That’s what advertisers want. They want Kiefer Sutherland, who they loved in 24; an actor from the NCIS franchise doing another show (Bull); and a reboot of a show they loved 25 years ago, MacGyver. Why are they so high on Timeless? Because it comes on after The Voice, so it’s the surest thing on the NBC schedule. Likewise, they’re big on This Is Us not so much based on the preview, but because the trailer was seen by 35 million people on YouTube.
In other words, media buyers care about their bottom line, and because the networks cater to media buyers, the networks continue to produce procedurals and reboots that appeal to what the media buyers believe will perform well.
1. Fox’s The Exorcist
2. ABC’s Notorious
3. CBS’s Kevin Can Wait
4. CW’s No Tomorrow
5. NBC’s Timeless
What’s interesting here, based on their notes, is that media buyers like reboots, but not off-brand horror reboots (The Exorcist); that they like familiar faces but not in familiar but unoriginal shows (Kevin Can Wait); that they don’t like “unoriginal” but that they also don’t like trailers if the conceit is not immediately apparent to viewers (Notorious and No Tomorrow); and that they love Timeless because it comes on after The Voice, but not because of the show itself, which displays “clichéd writing and characters.”
Media buyers are hard to pin down.