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Lack of Big TV Hits Creating Problems Downstream WSJ

One of the biggest threats facing cable channels is an issue facing the top broadcast networks: a lack of major hits, reports The Wall Street Journal. [The WSJ is behind a firewall and may charge you to read the story.]

That’s because cable companies are built on what the newspaper calls a “low-risk but lucrative business model: fill much of the schedule with reruns of shows that were proven hits on broadcast networks -- CBS, NBC, Fox and ABC -- taking a lot of the guesswork out of programming.”

But that formula is breaking down, given that audiences have fragmented among dozens of cable channels, and fewer broadcast shows are becoming the type of huge hit that can guarantee big audiences when they air in reruns on cable, the story notes.

“Most affected are the biggest cable channels, like TNT, TBS and USA Network, that have long aired mass-market entertainment programming most similar to broadcast networks. If those networks pay large sums for reruns that can't bring in large audiences, ad revenue and profits will suffer,” the piece adds.

Investing in original programming can be risky, given the cost involved and the chances that original cable programming won’t pull audiences. “That is why all the big cable networks are hoping for broadcasters to rediscover their mojo,” WSJ adds.

The report notes: “The shrinking pool of rerun candidates is evident in broadcasters' high cancellation rate: Just 29% of the broadcast TV shows launched in the 2013 season were renewed for a second season, according to analyst Michael Nathanson of MoffettNathanson Research. That renewal rate has averaged 35% since 2006.”

Because cable networks look for shows with 90 to 100 episodes, there’s only one remaining choice for cable networks looking for a broadcast comedy to buy in syndication for 2015, which is Fox’s “New Girl,” the piece says. For 2016, there are only two comedies in the running, Fox’s “The Mindy Project” and ABC’s “Last Man Standing.”

None of those are the type of “blue chip” hits like “Seinfeld,” Katz Television Group director of programming Bill Carroll told the publication.

“We're all getting starved," FX Chief Operating Officer Chuck Saftler told The Journal. “For every elite show like 'Big Bang Theory', there is an awful lot of mediocrity out there that won't pull ratings."