Year-Round Model Becoming a Reality

Apr 26, 2004  •  Post A Comment

As NBC’s Jeff Zucker and CBS’s Leslie Moonves play a game of one-upmanship heading into the annual upfront market, it’s worth acknowledging a number of developments that have begun to disrupt the traditional rhythms of the TV business and could herald the eventual demise of both the sweeps and the upfront as we know them today.
Fox, keeping its earlier pledge to develop and program throughout the year, recently announced it will roll out what amounts to a new season for this summer. NBC plans to launch its fall schedule in August to take advantage of promotional opportunities during the Olympics. Those are moves that take the entire industry one step closer to a year-round schedule, which we believe is a more realistic approach to today’s marketplace.
Meanwhile, the gradual deployment by Nielsen of Local People Meters marks the beginning of the end for traditional sweeps periods. Local markets will now have a greater amount of information available than ever before on a much more timely basis. As we have seen in New York, there are both technical and political hurdles to overcome; but as we have seen already in Boston, the new technology will arrive and will have an impact.
At the same time, a number of cable networks have announced programming plans for the May 2004 sweeps that reveal they are increasingly willing to compete head-on with the broadcast networks. For years cable has taken advantage of summer, when the broadcast networks went to reruns, to attract new viewers. Just as the broadcast networks are discovering summer as a time to launch shows, many of the cable networks are looking at ways to better spread their best and newest shows across the entire year.
As the playing field for broadcast and cable becomes more level, it becomes even more clear that all of these networks need to compete year-round. It adds up to a wake-up call for broadcasters, who would do well to recognize and embrace the sweeping changes confronting the industry. With stiffer competition for viewers’ attention than ever before, it no longer makes sense to be limited by an outdated schedule.
Clearly, broadcasters cannot afford to live in the past. The sooner they get serious about year-round television, the better. Ultimately, the changes that are now beginning to take hold will benefit viewers and will be good for business as the broadcast television marketplace comes to more realistically reflect the technological and economic climate in which it operates.
The demise of the upfront may be far from imminent, but it appears to be coming-perhaps sooner than many observers expect. Even if it survives, it may move to a different time of year. So as Mr. Zucker, Mr. Moonves and others go through their annual upfront spring ritual, enjoy it for what it is: one of the closing acts of an outdated model.