Cord-Cutting is On the Rise, But Is It Too Late to Save Broadcasting?

To hear some people talk, 2015 may be shaping up to be a turning point for the sports TV landscape and that of TV in general, where cord-cutting may be hitting a tipping point and substantially impacting ESPN’s business. It started with the advent of Sling TV allowing people to get ESPN without a traditional cable subscription, and has continued with the launch of HBO NOW and other over-the-top services. Then ESPN let several high-profile personalities go in the name of cost-cutting, including Bill Simmons and Colin Cowherd. More to the point, after years of sports events moving seemingly inexorably to cable, some of them are finally starting to move the other way. ESPN losing several lower-tier rights to entities that will place them on broadcast networks is more about ESPN trying to save money and Fox and NBC not quite being as willing to go all-in on the cable network front as ESPN has been than anything else, though there is surely some symbolic value in the British Open, which moved to ESPN exclusively shortly before the BCS deal, returning to broadcast on NBC and Golf Channel. What may send a bigger message is ESPN itself announcing that their upcoming NFL Wild Card game will be simulcast on ABC, as well as moving the ESPY awards to ABC (though I can’t help but wonder if they knew about Caitlyn Jenner’s appearance attracting a lot of non-sports fans when they made the latter move). All this is taking place on a backdrop of ESPN losing over three million households just in the year from July to July.

It’s tempting to say this marks the bursting of the sports TV bubble and the start of broadcast reclaiming its former dominance in the television, or at least sports television, landscape. Certainly it looks like the smart thing for the Big Ten to do in its upcoming rights renegotiations is to adopt a fairly broadcast-heavy strategy, and between that and ESPN’s penny-pinching I’d be very surprised if ESPN claimed the entirety of the Big Ten rights. (Given the potential synergy with the Big Ten Network, I’d be shocked if Fox was completely shut out of the Big Ten rights.) But the decline of ESPN’s subscriber base and the erosion of their subscriber-fee advantage is only half the story. It won’t mean much if broadcasting doesn’t survive long enough to take advantage of it – and if broadcasters aren’t able or willing to take advantage of it. It won’t mean much if broadcasters remain unaware of or resistant to their potential in the video landscape of the future, or if market and regulatory concerns prevent them from realizing that potential.

We’re now five months away from the broadcast incentive auctions scheduled for late March. Many stations may elect to go off the air out of the belief that they can get more money surrendering their spectrum to wireless companies than by staying on the air, in part because of the perceived limited potential of broadcast given the programming available to them and the market forces favoring cable networks. In some places, large station group owners may elect to consolidate multiple stations they own onto a single signal, with some having already done so and either selling the shell of the vacated station to groups with not much to do with it but cash it out at auction or simply outright returning the licence to the FCC. Pretty much any station that’s not an affiliate of a Big Four network is liable to put up their stations at auction, because they’re not programming anything that’s worth people’s attention at the moment. Those stations that survive could end up terminally crippled by a variable band-plan that could subject many stations to interference from wireless carriers and a landscape that could make it impossible for new stations to start up if anyone decides some of the stations that shut down or consolidated shouldn’t have.

As I’ve laid out many times before, cord-cutting should be a boon to broadcasters even as it disrupts the cable business, or at least it should hinder broadcasters much less than cable operators. But it’s not happening fast enough to change the fact that cable networks’ access to subscription fees give them a massive advantage over broadcast networks and stations, compounded by regulatory restrictions on content cable networks aren’t subject to, and retransmission consent, broadcast’s means of trying to correct this imbalance, only gives them as much reason to fear cord-cutting as the cable networks, to the point of threatening to abandon over-the-air broadcasting entirely if Aereo was allowed to cripple their retransmission consent leverage, and doing little to overcome the industry’s other challenges. (Even when some do attempt to lay out the benefits of continued cord-cutting for broadcast, retransmission consent still plays a key role.) Cord-cutting’s benefit to broadcasting has been limited by a poorly-implemented digital transition that made it far too difficult for far too many Americans to pick up their signal and a digital standard that wasn’t future-proof enough to allow broadcasters to reach mobile devices without using the Internet as an intermediary or using an optional, poorly-supported kludge, with the result that far too few Americans know, and fewer care, about the plight of broadcasting or its importance. The broadcast industry has been hard at work on a next-generation digital television standard with the potential to fix some of these technological shortcomings, but there’s no guarantee it’ll be ready in time for the incentive auction, that it’ll actually do enough to solve these problems, or that it’ll overcome the larger market and regulatory forces holding back the industry and hindering support for the standard. The FCC might fix some of the outdated and backwards ownership rules holding broadcast back, but not only would solving the biggest problems require Congressional action, they don’t even plan on finishing the ongoing ownership review until June, after the auction, betraying how much interest they have in the continued survival of the broadcast industry.

By and large, the broadcast industry seems unaware of the real nature of the forces destroying their industry, of the value the technology of broadcast potentially has in the video landscape of the future so long as broadcasters are willing and able to maximize it, and has little interest in attempting to surmount its obstacles, including the ones they’re complicit in, to ensure its continued survival. They seem unaware their most dominant players, the ones that threatened to ditch broadcast in the Aereo affair, do not really have their best interests at heart, placing far more stock in their cable networks and only sticking with broadcast, and the threat it could potentially pose to their cable networks, as long as they can keep collecting retransmission consent and they can’t get away with ditching it without a major PR disaster and Congressional action. Fox just announced it’s renewing the MyNetworkTV “programming service” on its non-Fox network stations for another two years, beyond the incentive auction – even though Fox’s own MyNet station here in LA doesn’t even show MyNet in the very primetime spots that are supposedly MyNet’s reason for existence in the first place. It’s all the more apparent that the real purpose of MyNet is to keep stations from posing any real competitive threat to Fox’s broadcast or cable networks by “filling their primetime needs” with the sort of reruns that are perhaps least necessary to have on linear broadcast television in the age of Netflix.

I don’t know what might happen to get the broadcast industry to wake up and embrace a path that will allow it to survive and thrive in the future. Perhaps it’ll come from outside, with a billionaire sports team owner willing to take a risk on a new (old) distribution paradigm and a new business model for the 21st century. Perhaps it’ll come from within, with a station group large in its own right but with less investment in cable willing to recognize MyNet for what it is and offer the industry a different path using infrastructure it’s been building for the past two years. Or perhaps Congress, overcoming its ongoing dysfunction ever so briefly, will find enough wisdom to rewrite the rules to fit the market conditions of the 2010s, not the 1990s. Or maybe it’ll be something else entirely. But whatever it is, the clock is ticking for it to happen, or else the turning point 2015 is shaping up to be for cord-cutting may prove to be too little, too late for the broadcast industry – and that would mean ESPN would have much less to fear from cord-cutting than you might think.

Broadcast Rat Race Week 5: “The Player”, “Blood and Oil”, “Truth Be Told” Catch Episode Cut Epidemic; “Limitless” Given Back-Nine Inoculation – As Has “The Grinder”?!

We’ve had a veritable spate of episode-order cuts this year; Fox started it by cutting “Minority Report” to ten episodes, and every show listed as “cancelled” on the chart below has had their episode order cut. This is the latest evolution in how networks deal with flops. Once upon a time, flops would simply be yanked off the schedule and replaced with something else coming out of the bullpen, but new shows were doomed to failure if they were plugged in to a random flop’s time-slot at a random point in the season rather than being given significant advance promotion and debuting at a point where audiences were ready for new shows, readying veteran shows with established audiences wasn’t much better and posed additional risks, and putting veteran shows in interim spots on the schedule like Fridays, to be plugged in when a new show flopped, didn’t fool anyone for long and cost the networks upfront money contingent on the originally advertised time slot. In recent years, then, networks have taken to letting shows finish out their initial 13-episode order, no matter how horribly rated (so long as reruns wouldn’t do any better), and then finding something else to fill the time-slot at midseason.

Last year, the first thing resembling a cancellation came in mid-October, and was similar to what we’ve seen this year: Fox cut “Mulaney”‘s episode order from an unusually-high 16 to 13. ABC yanked “Manhattan Love Story” at about this time last year, replacing it with double-runs of “Selfie” (which wasn’t that much higher rated), and in mid-November pulled “Selfie” in favor of repeats and “Dancing with the Stars” clip shows. NBC gave a Halloween spook to “A to Z” and “Bad Judge”, announcing on October 31 that those two shows would not receive more than their original 13-episode orders, but that all the episodes ordered would air. CBS announced it wouldn’t go forward with sophomore “The Millers” in mid-November, something of a surprise considering the support CBS had seemed to show it by renewing it in the first place and their evident desire to get one of their own sitcoms to syndication. NBC’s “Constantine” and Fox’s “Red Band Society” were the only other shows to be announced not to get back nines by the end of November, with Fox pulling “RBS” off the schedule after ten episodes, taking it a week into December. Only “Manhattan Love Story”, “Selfie”, and “The Millers” failed to hold on to their spots until holiday specials and repeats took over the schedule.

This year networks seem to be adopting the tack Fox took with “Mulaney” and “Minority Report” by cutting episode orders. Several shows in the past week have effectively had production shut down after the current episode, pointing to what may be behind the latest strategy tweak: regardless of the opportunity cost of pulling a new show, networks may not want to incur the cost of producing more episodes of shows that will deliver miniscule ratings, which may mean they may prefer to run repeats once the produced episodes have finished airing even if the repeats would deliver smaller ratings, since repeats don’t incur production costs. Shows that have been produced will air in their originally scheduled time slot, because they might as well if repeats won’t do any better, and they’d collect better numbers there than if they were burned off on Saturday or in summer.

Rookies “Supergirl” and “Wicked City” and veteran “Grimm” make their bows this week.

How to read the chart: First box shows current time slot, second box current season number. Eps: Total number of episodes aired / total number of episodes ordered (if known). Last: 18-49 rating of the most recent episode. Raw: Average of first-run 18-49 ratings. Adj.: Average of the most recent episode and the previous Adj. rating. WklIdx: Last divided by the network scripted show average for the week. RawIdx: Raw divided by the network scripted show average for the season. Index: Adj. divided by the network scripted show average for the season. In general, >1.1=certain renewal, .85-1.1=probable renewal, .7-.85=on the bubble, .6-.7=probably cancelled. Anything substantially less than .6 for rookie shows indicates a dead show walking. Prod: Production company that produces the show (ABC=ABC Studios, CBS=CBS Television, Fox=20th Television, NBCU=Universal Television, Sony=Sony Pictures Television, WB=Warner Bros. Television). Incorporates ratings through Sunday, October 25; write-ups do not take into account Monday’s or Tuesday’s ratings. Weekly averages used: ABC 1.71, FOX 1.64, CBS 1.61, NBC 1.23, CW .58. Network averages used: ABC 1.83, CBS 1.70, FOX 1.68, NBC 1.43, CW .66.

Read moreBroadcast Rat Race Week 5: “The Player”, “Blood and Oil”, “Truth Be Told” Catch Episode Cut Epidemic; “Limitless” Given Back-Nine Inoculation – As Has “The Grinder”?!

Sunday Night Football Flex Scheduling Watch: Week 7

NBC’s Sunday Night Football package gives it flexible scheduling. For the last seven weeks of the season, the games are determined on 12-day notice, 6-day notice for Week 17.

The first year, no game was listed in the Sunday Night slot, only a notation that one game could move there. Now, NBC lists the game it “tentatively” schedules for each night. However, the NFL is in charge of moving games to prime time.

Here are the rules from the NFL web site (note that even with the bit about the early flexes, this was written with the 2007 season in mind, hence why it still says late games start at 4:15 ET instead of 4:25):

  • Begins Sunday of Week 5
  • In effect during Weeks 5-17
  • Up to 2 games may be flexed into Sunday Night between Weeks 5-10
  • Only Sunday afternoon games are subject to being moved into the Sunday night window.
  • The game that has been tentatively scheduled for Sunday night during flex weeks will be listed at 8:15 p.m. ET.
  • The majority of games on Sundays will be listed at 1:00 p.m. ET during flex weeks except for games played in Pacific or Mountain Time zones which will be listed at 4:05 or 4:15 p.m. ET.
  • No impact on Thursday, Saturday or Monday night games.
  • The NFL will decide (after consultation with CBS, FOX, NBC) and announce as early as possible the game being played at 8:15 p.m. ET. The announcement will come no later than 12 days prior to the game. The NFL may also announce games moving to 4:05 p.m. ET and 4:15 p.m. ET.
  • Week 17 start time changes could be decided on 6 days notice to ensure a game with playoff implications.
  • The NBC Sunday night time slot in “flex” weeks will list the game that has been tentatively scheduled for Sunday night.
  • Fans and ticket holders must be aware that NFL games in flex weeks are subject to change 12 days in advance (6 days in Week 17) and should plan accordingly.
  • NFL schedules all games.
  • Teams will be informed as soon as they are no longer under consideration or eligible for a move to Sunday night.
  • Rules NOT listed on NFL web site but pertinent to flex schedule selection: CBS and Fox each protect games in five out of six weeks starting Week 11, and cannot protect any games Week 17. Games were protected after Week 4 in 2006 and 2011, because NBC hosted Christmas night games those years and all the other games were moved to Saturday (and so couldn’t be flexed), but are otherwise protected after Week 5. As I understand it, during the Week 5-10 period the NFL and NBC declare their intention to flex out a game two weeks in advance, at which point CBS and Fox pick one game each to protect.
  • In the past, three teams could appear a maximum of six games in primetime on NBC, ESPN or NFL Network (everyone else gets five) and no team may appear more than four times on NBC. I don’t know how the expansion of the Thursday Night schedule affects this, if it does. No team starts the season completely tapped out at any measure; nine teams have five primetime appearances each, but only the Giants, Cowboys, Packers, and Eagles don’t have games in the main flex period, and of those only the Giants don’t have games in the early flex period. A list of all teams’ number of appearances is in my Week 5 post.

Here are the current tentatively-scheduled games and my predictions:

Week 11 (November 22):

  • Tentative game: Kansas City @ San Diego
  • Prospects: 2-5 v. 2-5, in pretty bad shape.
  • Likely protections: Bengals-Cardinals or Colts-Falcons (CBS) and Packers-Vikings if anything (FOX).
  • Other possible games: Pretty much just CBS’ unprotected game, although Packers-Vikings is becoming an intriguing option even with the Packers still unbeaten.

Week 12 (November 29):

  • Tentative game: New England @ Denver
  • Prospects: Not a single loss between them, and possibly the last Brady-Manning showdown. No chance to lose its spot.
  • Likely protections: Giants-Washington if anything (FOX).
  • Other possible games: Thanksgiving Weekend, paucity of good games (I think it’s a mortal lock this is CBS’ unprotected week). I doubt it’s a coincidence the game you think is least likely to be flexed coming into the season is the one slated for this week. Vikings-Falcons is at least becoming a respectable option, but it really has no shot, while Rams-Bengals and Dolphins-Jets continue to wait in the wings.

Week 13 (December 6):

  • Tentative game: Indianapolis @ Pittsburgh
  • Prospects: 3-4 v. 4-3, a rather mediocre game but the Colts still lead the division despite being below .500.
  • Likely protections: Jets-Giants (CBS) and Eagles-Patriots (FOX).
  • Other possible games: Cardinals-Rams is the only game pitting two teams at or above .500.

Week 14 (December 13):

  • Tentative game: Seattle @ Baltimore
  • Prospects: 3-4 v. 1-6. Not looking good.
  • Likely protections: Steelers-Bengals (CBS, confirmed) and Cowboys-Packers or Falcons-Panthers (FOX).
  • Other possible games: Either of Fox’s possible protected games would be very attractive, with at least one team unbeaten at the moment, and there may not really be any other option; Raiders-Broncos pits an unbeaten against a better team than the Cowboys, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the Cowboys’ name value trumped that.

Week 15 (December 20):

  • Tentative game: Cincinnati @ San Francisco
  • Prospects: 6-0 v. 2-5. Massively lopsided.
  • Likely protections: Broncos-Steelers (CBS, confirmed) and Panthers-Giants or Bears-Vikings (FOX).
  • Other possible games: Panthers-Giants is a bit lopsided, sitting at 5-0 v. 4-3, but it’s still a Giants win better than Packers-Raiders.

Week 16 (December 27):

  • Tentative game: Pittsburgh @ Baltimore
  • Prospects: 4-3 v. 1-6. One of the NFL’s better rivalries, but not in the best shape right now.
  • Likely protections: Patriots-Jets (CBS) and Packers-Cardinals or Panthers-Falcons (FOX).
  • Other possible games: As with the week with the first Panthers-Falcons matchup, Fox’s unprotected game is far and away ahead of any other contenders; Giants-Vikings is a very distant second, while Colts-Dolphins waits in the wings.

Week 17 (January 3):

  • Playoff positioning watch begins Week 9.

Broadcast Rat Race Week 4: “Rosewood”, “Dr. Ken” Prescribed Back Nines, “Blood and Oil”, “The Player” Terminal, “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend”, “Truth Be Told” Stillborn

I’ve condensed the top lines for shows well into “certain renewal” status in order to save me the work needed to come up with write-ups for all of them. (Don’t worry, they should be easier to read next week.) Of course those weren’t the only shows I had trouble writing up. I had some material for “Rosewood” and “Dr. Ken”, recipients of back-nine orders each, but I’m not even happy with those. I mostly condensed shows above adjusted index numbers of 1.15, though I could have gone with 1.2 and saved the possibility of “Chicago Fire” making me eat my decision to condense it, and I wouldn’t have condensed “The Goldbergs” at all if it weren’t a fast-track show.

Things are starting to clear up, by and large. Two shows moved to dead-show-walking status this week and a third flopped out of the gate to join them, and no, it’s not the historically-bad start of “Truth be Told”. CBS has a lot of pull to keep their CW shows alive, but it’s hard to see it being worth the effort when it comes to a show that gets out to such a dreadful start, even by CW standards, as “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” – especially considering how much flux the future of the CW itself, and specifically CBS’ involvement in it, is in this season, when so many of its affiliation agreements are up.

No new shows premiering this week, but “Supergirl” will have premiered on CBS by the time next week’s post is out.

How to read the chart: First box shows current time slot, second box current season number. Eps: Total number of episodes aired / total number of episodes ordered (if known). Last: 18-49 rating of the most recent episode. Raw: Average of first-run 18-49 ratings. Adj.: Average of the most recent episode and the previous Adj. rating. WklIdx: Last divided by the network scripted show average for the week. RawIdx: Raw divided by the network scripted show average for the season. Index: Adj. divided by the network scripted show average for the season. In general, >1.1=certain renewal, .85-1.1=probable renewal, .7-.85=on the bubble, .6-.7=probably cancelled. Anything substantially less than .6 for rookie shows indicates a dead show walking. Prod: Production company that produces the show (ABC=ABC Studios, CBS=CBS Television, Fox=20th Television, NBCU=Universal Television, Sony=Sony Pictures Television, WB=Warner Bros. Television). Incorporates ratings through Sunday, October 18; write-ups do not take into account Monday’s ratings. Weekly averages used: ABC 1.66, CBS 1.54, FOX 1.38, NBC 1.31, CW .64. Network averages used: ABC 1.85, CBS 1.72, FOX 1.69, NBC 1.5, CW .7.

Read moreBroadcast Rat Race Week 4: “Rosewood”, “Dr. Ken” Prescribed Back Nines, “Blood and Oil”, “The Player” Terminal, “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend”, “Truth Be Told” Stillborn

Sunday Night Football Flex Scheduling Watch: Week 6

NBC’s Sunday Night Football package gives it flexible scheduling. For the last seven weeks of the season, the games are determined on 12-day notice, 6-day notice for Week 17.

The first year, no game was listed in the Sunday Night slot, only a notation that one game could move there. Now, NBC lists the game it “tentatively” schedules for each night. However, the NFL is in charge of moving games to prime time.

Here are the rules from the NFL web site (note that even with the bit about the early flexes, this was written with the 2007 season in mind, hence why it still says late games start at 4:15 ET instead of 4:25):

  • Begins Sunday of Week 5
  • In effect during Weeks 5-17
  • Up to 2 games may be flexed into Sunday Night between Weeks 5-10
  • Only Sunday afternoon games are subject to being moved into the Sunday night window.
  • The game that has been tentatively scheduled for Sunday night during flex weeks will be listed at 8:15 p.m. ET.
  • The majority of games on Sundays will be listed at 1:00 p.m. ET during flex weeks except for games played in Pacific or Mountain Time zones which will be listed at 4:05 or 4:15 p.m. ET.
  • No impact on Thursday, Saturday or Monday night games.
  • The NFL will decide (after consultation with CBS, FOX, NBC) and announce as early as possible the game being played at 8:15 p.m. ET. The announcement will come no later than 12 days prior to the game. The NFL may also announce games moving to 4:05 p.m. ET and 4:15 p.m. ET.
  • Week 17 start time changes could be decided on 6 days notice to ensure a game with playoff implications.
  • The NBC Sunday night time slot in “flex” weeks will list the game that has been tentatively scheduled for Sunday night.
  • Fans and ticket holders must be aware that NFL games in flex weeks are subject to change 12 days in advance (6 days in Week 17) and should plan accordingly.
  • NFL schedules all games.
  • Teams will be informed as soon as they are no longer under consideration or eligible for a move to Sunday night.
  • Rules NOT listed on NFL web site but pertinent to flex schedule selection: CBS and Fox each protect games in five out of six weeks starting Week 11, and cannot protect any games Week 17. Games were protected after Week 4 in 2006 and 2011, because NBC hosted Christmas night games those years and all the other games were moved to Saturday (and so couldn’t be flexed), but are otherwise protected after Week 5. As I understand it, during the Week 5-10 period the NFL and NBC declare their intention to flex out a game two weeks in advance, at which point CBS and Fox pick one game each to protect.
  • In the past, three teams could appear a maximum of six games in primetime on NBC, ESPN or NFL Network (everyone else gets five) and no team may appear more than four times on NBC. I don’t know how the expansion of the Thursday Night schedule affects this, if it does. No team starts the season completely tapped out at any measure; nine teams have five primetime appearances each, but only the Giants, Cowboys, Packers, and Eagles don’t have games in the main flex period, and of those only the Giants don’t have games in the early flex period. A list of all teams’ number of appearances is in my Week 5 post.

Here are the current tentatively-scheduled games and my predictions:

Week 11 (November 22):

  • Tentative game: Kansas City @ San Diego
  • Prospects: 1-5 v. 2-4, in pretty bad shape.
  • Likely protections: Bengals-Cardinals or Colts-Falcons (CBS) and Packers-Vikings if anything (FOX).
  • Other possible games: Pretty much just CBS’ unprotected game; even Packers-Vikings might be too lopsided to be much of an option if it’s unprotected. The Eagles were the only 2-3 team to win and none of the unbeatens lost so I’m still looking at 2-3 teams; that Eagles win helps Bucs-Eagles some, but it’s still substantially behind CBS’ unprotected game. Cowboys-Dolphins is starting to emerge as an even darker horse.

Week 12 (November 29):

  • Tentative game: New England @ Denver
  • Prospects: Not a single loss between them, and possibly the last Brady-Manning showdown. No chance to lose its spot.
  • Likely protections: Giants-Washington if anything (FOX).
  • Other possible games: Thanksgiving Weekend, paucity of good games (I think it’s a mortal lock this is CBS’ unprotected week). I doubt it’s a coincidence the game you think is least likely to be flexed coming into the season is the one slated for this week. Vikings-Falcons is at least becoming a respectable option, but it really has no shot, while Bucs-Colts, Rams-Bengals, and Dolphins-Jets continue to wait in the wings.

Week 13 (December 6):

  • Tentative game: Indianapolis @ Pittsburgh
  • Prospects: 3-3 v. 4-2, a respectable but not worldbeating game, with marquee quarterbacks but small markets.
  • Likely protections: Jets-Giants (CBS) and Eagles-Patriots (FOX).
  • Other possible games: Only other options involve teams below .500, and even then there are only two games involving only teams at 2-3 or better. Falcons-Bucs is the only unbeaten-vs-2-3 game where the 2-3 team didn’t lose last week, and that only because the Bucs were on bye, and Cardinals-Rams is the only other option. This game will keep its spot if records hold.

Week 14 (December 13):

  • Tentative game: Seattle @ Baltimore
  • Prospects: 2-4 v. 1-5, same as Chiefs-Chargers earlier. Not looking good.
  • Likely protections: Steelers-Bengals (CBS) and Cowboys-Packers or Falcons-Panthers (FOX).
  • Other possible games: Either of Fox’s possible protected games would be very attractive, with at least one team unbeaten at the moment, and there may not really be any other option. Raiders-Broncos is another unbeaten v. 2-3 game, and Bills-Eagles at least pits two teams at .500, but that’s it.

Week 15 (December 20):

  • Tentative game: Cincinnati @ San Francisco
  • Prospects: 6-0 v. 2-4. Massively lopsided.
  • Likely protections: Broncos-Steelers (CBS) and Panthers-Giants or Bears-Vikings (FOX).
  • Other possible games: Panthers-Giants is increasingly lopsided, sitting at 5-0 v. 3-3, while Cardinals-Eagles is now 4-2 v. 3-3. Packers-Raiders is a bit too lopsided to be an option at the moment, at only a Raiders loss better than the tentative.

Week 16 (December 27):

  • Tentative game: Pittsburgh @ Baltimore
  • Prospects: 4-2 v. 1-5. One of the NFL’s better rivalries, but not in the best shape right now.
  • Likely protections: Patriots-Jets (CBS) and Packers-Cardinals or Panthers-Falcons (FOX).
  • Other possible games: As with the week with the first Panthers-Falcons matchup, Fox’s unprotected game is far and away ahead of any other contenders; Giants-Vikings is a very distant second, while Cowboys-Bills and Colts-Dolphins pit 3-3 v. 2-3 teams.

Week 17 (January 3):

  • Playoff positioning watch begins Week 9.

Broadcast Rat Race Week 3: Full Seasons for “Blindspot”, “Quantico”, “FotB”, Not So Much for “Minority Report”

Except for the CW, this week marks three weeks of the new TV season, which means it’s where the adjusted index numbers finally diverge from the raw index numbers. And not a moment too soon, as networks’ reactions to their early-season performances have begun, with Fox slashing “Minority Report”‘s episode order, “Blindspot” getting a full-season order, and today, ABC giving full-season orders to “Quantico” and “Fresh off the Boat”. Next week I’ll probably condense the entries of the top shows because I don’t have a lot to say about them and they make this post take longer than it otherwise would.

The CW finished up its late premiere week with its one fall rookie “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” and sophomore “Jane the Virgin”, while NBC bows veteran “Chicago Fire” and rookie “Truth Be Told” this week.

How to read the chart: First box shows current time slot, second box current season number. Eps: Total number of episodes aired / total number of episodes ordered (if known). Last: 18-49 rating of the most recent episode. Raw: Average of first-run 18-49 ratings. Adj.: Average of the most recent episode and the previous Adj. rating. WklIdx: Last divided by the network scripted show average for the week. RawIdx: Raw divided by the network scripted show average for the season. Index: Adj. divided by the network scripted show average for the season. In general, >1.1=certain renewal, .85-1.1=probable renewal, .7-.85=on the bubble, .6-.7=probably cancelled. Anything substantially less than .6 for rookie shows indicates a dead show walking. Prod: Production company that produces the show (ABC=ABC Studios, CBS=CBS Television, Fox=20th Television, NBCU=Universal Television, Sony=Sony Pictures Television, WB=Warner Bros. Television). Incorporates ratings through Sunday, October 11; write-ups do not take into account Monday’s ratings. Weekly averages used: ABC 1.75, CBS 1.66, FOX 1.51, NBC 1.38, CW .77. Network averages used: ABC 1.92, FOX 1.79, CBS 1.79, NBC 1.60, CW .77.

Read moreBroadcast Rat Race Week 3: Full Seasons for “Blindspot”, “Quantico”, “FotB”, Not So Much for “Minority Report”

Sunday Night Football Flex Scheduling Watch: Week 5

NBC’s Sunday Night Football package gives it flexible scheduling. For the last seven weeks of the season, the games are determined on 12-day notice, 6-day notice for Week 17.

The first year, no game was listed in the Sunday Night slot, only a notation that one game could move there. Now, NBC lists the game it “tentatively” schedules for each night. However, the NFL is in charge of moving games to prime time.

Here are the rules from the NFL web site (note that even with the bit about the early flexes, this was written with the 2007 season in mind, hence why it still says late games start at 4:15 ET instead of 4:25):

  • Begins Sunday of Week 5
  • In effect during Weeks 5-17
  • Up to 2 games may be flexed into Sunday Night between Weeks 5-10
  • Only Sunday afternoon games are subject to being moved into the Sunday night window.
  • The game that has been tentatively scheduled for Sunday night during flex weeks will be listed at 8:15 p.m. ET.
  • The majority of games on Sundays will be listed at 1:00 p.m. ET during flex weeks except for games played in Pacific or Mountain Time zones which will be listed at 4:05 or 4:15 p.m. ET.
  • No impact on Thursday, Saturday or Monday night games.
  • The NFL will decide (after consultation with CBS, FOX, NBC) and announce as early as possible the game being played at 8:15 p.m. ET. The announcement will come no later than 12 days prior to the game. The NFL may also announce games moving to 4:05 p.m. ET and 4:15 p.m. ET.
  • Week 17 start time changes could be decided on 6 days notice to ensure a game with playoff implications.
  • The NBC Sunday night time slot in “flex” weeks will list the game that has been tentatively scheduled for Sunday night.
  • Fans and ticket holders must be aware that NFL games in flex weeks are subject to change 12 days in advance (6 days in Week 17) and should plan accordingly.
  • NFL schedules all games.
  • Teams will be informed as soon as they are no longer under consideration or eligible for a move to Sunday night.
  • Rules NOT listed on NFL web site but pertinent to flex schedule selection: CBS and Fox each protect games in five out of six weeks starting Week 11, and cannot protect any games Week 17. Games were protected after Week 4 in 2006 and 2011, because NBC hosted Christmas night games those years and all the other games were moved to Saturday (and so couldn’t be flexed), but are otherwise protected after Week 5. As I understand it, during the Week 5-10 period the NFL and NBC declare their intention to flex out a game two weeks in advance, at which point CBS and Fox pick one game each to protect.
  • In the past, three teams could appear a maximum of six games in primetime on NBC, ESPN or NFL Network (everyone else gets five) and no team may appear more than four times on NBC. I don’t know how the expansion of the Thursday Night schedule affects this, if it does. No team starts the season completely tapped out at any measure; nine teams have five primetime appearances each, but only the Giants, Cowboys, Packers, and Eagles don’t have games in the main flex period, and of those only the Giants don’t have games in the early flex period. NBC appearances for all teams: PIT 3 (2 flexible), NE 3 (1 flexible), NYG 2, DAL 3 (1 semi-flexible), SEA 3 (1 semi-flexible, 1 flexible), GB 3 (1 semi-flexible), DEN 3 (1 semi-flexible, 1 flexible), DET 1, NO 1, SF 2 (1 flexible), IND 2 (1 flexible), PHI 2 (semi-flexible), CAR 1 (semi-flexible), ARI 1 (semi-flexible), KC 1 (flexible), SD 1 (flexible), CHI 1, BAL 2 (flexible), CIN 1 (flexible). All primetime appearances for all teams: PIT 5 (2 flexible), NE 5 (1 flexible), NYG 5, DAL 5 (1 semi-flexible), SEA 5 (1 semi-flexible, 1 flexible), GB 5 (1 semi-flexible), DEN 5 (1 semi-flexible, 1 flexible), DET 4, NO 3, SF 4 (1 flexible), IND 5 (1 flexible), PHI 5 (2 semi-flexible), CAR 2 (1 semi-flexible), ARI 3 (1 semi-flexible), KC 3 (1 flexible), SD 4 (1 flexible), CHI 2, BAL 5 (2 flexible), CIN 4 (1 flexible), ATL 2, MIN 2, NYJ 3, HOU 2, BUF 2, CLE 2, WAS 3, MIA 2, all other teams 1.

Briefly, here are the current early-season games and their prospects for being flexed out:

  • Week 7: Philadelphia (2-3) @ Carolina (4-0). Potentially a bit lopsided, but an undefeated team taking on a big market. CBS likely protects Jets-Patriots, while Fox protects Cowboys-Giants, leaving you with only games involving 2-3 teams taking on teams at or below .500. No chance of being flexed out.
  • Week 8: Green Bay (5-0) @ Denver (5-0). Aaron Rodgers v. Peyton Manning is one thing, but when both teams are undefeated to boot? No chance of being flexed out.
  • Week 9: Philadelphia (2-3) @ Dallas (2-3). Two below-500 teams, but the apocalypse would need to hit before the Cowboys got flexed out of SNF.
  • Week 10: Arizona (4-1) @ Seattle (2-3). Another clash of a four-win team against a team below .500.

Here are the current tentatively-scheduled games and my predictions:

Week 11 (November 22):

  • Tentative game: Kansas City @ San Diego
  • Prospects: 1-4 v. 2-3, in pretty bad shape.
  • Likely protections: Bengals-Cardinals or Colts-Falcons (CBS) and Packers-Vikings if anything (FOX).
  • Other possible games: Pretty much just CBS’ unprotected game; even Packers-Vikings is too lopsided to be much of an option if it’s unprotected. Because a full half of the teams above .500 are unbeaten and there are so many surprises above .500 (unbeaten or no), I’m going to be looking at the 2-3 teams, and Bucs-Eagles could be an option if both teams rally from their 2-3 starts. Washington-Panthers is probably too lopsided for even that to work for it.

Week 12 (November 29):

  • Tentative game: New England @ Denver
  • Prospects: Not a single loss between them, and possibly the last Brady-Manning showdown. No chance to lose its spot.
  • Likely protections: Giants-Washington if anything (FOX).
  • Other possible games: Thanksgiving Weekend, paucity of good games (I think it’s a mortal lock this is CBS’ unprotected week). I doubt it’s a coincidence the game you think is least likely to be flexed coming into the season is the one slated for this week. Vikings-Falcons is a dark horse, while Bucs-Colts, Rams-Bengals, and Steelers-Seahawks wait in the wings, but there really is no good option this week, and no reason to look for one.

Week 13 (December 6):

  • Tentative game: Indianapolis @ Pittsburgh
  • Prospects: 3-2 v. 3-2, a respectable but not worldbeating game, with marquee quarterbacks but small markets.
  • Likely protections: Jets-Giants (CBS) and Eagles-Patriots (FOX).
  • Other possible games: Only other options involve teams below .500: Bengals-Browns, Broncos-Chargers, and Falcons-Bucs both pit unbeaten teams against 2-3 teams, Cardinals-Rams isn’t much better, and Seahawks-Vikings just pits two teams at 2-3 v. 2-2. This game will keep its spot if records hold.

Week 14 (December 13):

  • Tentative game: Seattle @ Baltimore
  • Prospects: 2-3 v. 1-4, same as Chiefs-Chargers earlier. Not looking good.
  • Likely protections: Steelers-Bengals (CBS) and Cowboys-Packers or Falcons-Panthers (FOX).
  • Other possible games: Either of Fox’s possible protected games would be very attractive, with at least one team unbeaten at the moment, and there may not really be any other option. Raiders-Broncos is another unbeaten v. 2-3 game, and Bills-Eagles and Washington-Bears are decidedly iffy.

Week 15 (December 20):

  • Tentative game: Cincinnati @ San Francisco
  • Prospects: 5-0 v. 1-4. Massively lopsided.
  • Likely protections: Broncos-Steelers (CBS) and Panthers-Giants or Bears-Vikings (FOX).
  • Other possible games: If Bears-Vikings is protected Panthers-Giants is a pretty good option, which is good because any other options would require 2-3 teams to rally. Keep an eye on Cardinals-Eagles, Bills-Washington, Browns-Seahawks, and Packers-Raiders.

Week 16 (December 27):

  • Tentative game: Pittsburgh @ Baltimore
  • Prospects: 3-2 v. 1-4. One of the NFL’s better rivalries, but not in the best shape right now.
  • Likely protections: Patriots-Jets (CBS) and Packers-Cardinals or Panthers-Falcons (FOX).
  • Other possible games: As with the week with the first Panthers-Falcons matchup, Fox’s unprotected game is far and away ahead of any other contenders; Giants-Vikings is a very distant second. Keep an eye on Cowboys-Bills, Bears-Bucs, and Rams-Seahawks.

Week 17 (January 3):

  • Playoff positioning watch begins Week 9.

Broadcast Rat Race Week 2: “Limitless”, “Quantico”, “Blindspot” Gleaming, “Hollow” Sleeping, “Queens” Screaming

Two weeks after all the other broadcast networks, the CW finally kicked off its 2015-16 season last night. It may be the most pivotal season in the network’s history for reasons that have nothing to do with how its shows do in the ratings, because it may be the CW’s last season in its current form. Here are the facts the CW faces:

  • In recent years, the number of shows the CW has aired has skewed heavily towards Warner Bros. productions over CBS productions – 7-to-3 in this year’s fall lineup. As a result, more marginally rated CBS shows have been renewed, sparking speculation that those renewals were a way to keep CBS happy and meet certain obligations inherent in the structure of the network. It’s easy to see why such a skew has developed – CBS has its own broadcast network to focus on and develop for, and the CW is a lower priority.
  • 2016 marks the CW’s 10-year anniversary, and more importantly, it marks the expiration of most if not all of its original affiliation agreements. That’s especially important because of a number of other factors surrounding those affiliates.
  • Many CW affiliates in large to mid-size markets, including the CW affiliates in the Big Three markets of New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago, are owned by Tribune, the legacy of those same stations previously being WB affiliates. Although Tribune was a partner in the old WB network, it does not have a stake in the CW, and that has been the subject of some tension between Tribune and the network, as Tribune has complained about how the network has not lived up to their expectations. Some years ago Tribune de-emphasized CW branding on many of its CW affiliates in favor of more locally-oriented branding; although some stations have since re-emphasized the CW, many, including WPIX, KTLA, and WGN in the Big Three markets, have not. Tribune has also begun venturing into producing its own shows, including “Salem” and “Manhattan” for WGN America, and may feel it has less reason for a network like the CW to fill time on its stations, or may even decide to start a network, or at least MyNet-esque “syndication service”, of its own.
  • In late 2016, the FCC will hold incentive auctions allowing stations to surrender some or all of their spectrum in exchange for cash payouts, and many CW and MyNet stations in smaller markets may opt to take the FCC’s offer. Already many CW and MyNet “affiliates” in smaller markets are digital subchannels of larger stations, and because FCC rules only prohibit common ownership of two of the top four stations in a market, effectively meaning the Big Four affiliates, many CW and MyNet affiliates in mid-size markets are co-owned with Big Four affiliates, including almost all the CW stations owned by CBS itself, who may opt to surrender the junior station and consolidate both affiliations onto a single signal. Some partnerships that use sharing agreements to circumvent FCC rules have already done this in anticipation of the FCC cracking down on such circumvention (and Sinclair Broadcast Group, the most infamous user of such agreements, may be preparing for a CW/MyNet-less future with its American Sports Network). The fewer separate stations the CW and MyNet have, the less reason either of them has to exist, especially depending on how happy the owners of the remaining stations are with the network. The CW must give standalone stations a good reason to stay on the air and sign up for another term with them.
  • The CW has long emphasized that it does not see the ratings of its shows on linear television as the whole story, that its shows make much of their money through streaming, DVD/Blu-Ray sales, syndication, and international deals. None of those, however, directly benefit the local stations that carry the CW, for which ratings are the only stake they have in the network. If linear ratings aren’t where you’re making your money, why are you a linear network, certainly one on broadcast?
  • The CW has long ordered fewer new shows than the other networks because they don’t program weekends, 10 PM, or scripted comedies (or any half-hours outside of summer). This year, however, takes it to an extreme with a grand total of one new show in the fall, “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” – a show that was originally developed for Showtime before being revived and retooled for broadcast at the CW. Worth noting that “Supergirl”, which comes from the same people behind “Arrow” and “The Flash” and might otherwise have crossed over with those shows, is debuting on CBS, not the CW. One may surmise that the CW is preparing for the possibility that it may not exist by this time next year and so isn’t starting any new shows that might be shut down for reasons outside their control, or moved to another channel, after one season.

Ultimately, the future of the network may well hinge on Warner Bros., and whether or not they still feel it’s worth it to own and run a broadcast network in this day and age (which is especially doubtful considering the CW merger itself may have been a stepping stone to getting out of the business). If not, they may elect to shut down the network and move their shows to networks like corporate sibling TNT, and CBS can move whatever shows they don’t decide to just end to their main broadcast network, Showtime, or Pop, or try and start their own MyNet-alike to air on their own owned stations (including independents WLNY New York and KCAL Los Angeles) and subchannels in other markets. If they do, they may want to buy out CBS’ half of the network, perhaps in conjunction with Tribune, and effectively resurrect the WB. Warners would still need to find a way to work with Tribune in order to have stations for the network to air on, especially without CBS, which could mean letting Tribune have part of CBS’ stake or even trying to buy out Tribune’s CW (and, potentially, MyNet) stations entirely. If Warners does want to keep the CW on the air as at least a nominal “fifth network”, they will want to change the network’s strategy in order to provide enough value for stations at markets of all sizes to avoid losing them to the incentive auction or any other forces that might make them reticent – and that means that keeping CBS involved, which probably doesn’t really allow the CW to fix its “underperforming CBS shows that get renewed anyway” problem, really isn’t an option, since CBS has no interest in fostering its own competition. (Unfortunately, sports is the most obvious way to do that, and there’s basically nothing they can acquire until next decade.)

With that context, perhaps the two most important shows for divining the CW’s future are “The Originals” and “Reign”, two shows that enter this season on the syndication fast-track, and so, under normal circumstances, would be a sure bet for another season – if the CW still exists next season. “The Originals” is a Warner Bros. show, but “Reign” is a CBS show, and so CBS has incentive to have some sort of platform next season to air “Reign” if nothing else. That means CBS wants to prevent either of the above scenarios from happening, or at least make sure “Reign” is taken care of if they do.

Frankly I think the CW shutting down or converting to a MyNet-esque service is more likely than Warners trying to run it on their own, though I do hope for the latter. Even the latter scenario would likely mean the CBS shows get kicked off the schedule and the standards for Warners shows might be lower. However, I’m going to look at CW shows as though it’s going to essentially be business as usual next season. Besides the shows mentioned above, based on the scheme I introduced last week, “The Flash”, “iZombie”, and “Jane the Virgin” are sophomores; “Arrow”, “Supernatural”, and “The Vampire Diaries” are veterans. As for NBC’s “Undateable”, see its entry at the bottom.

How to read the chart: First box shows current time slot, second box current season number. Eps: Total number of episodes aired / total number of episodes ordered (if known). Last: 18-49 rating of the most recent episode. Raw: Average of first-run 18-49 ratings. Adj.: Average of the most recent episode and the previous Adj. rating. WklIdx: Last divided by the network scripted show average for the week. RawIdx: Raw divided by the network scripted show average for the season. Index: Adj. divided by the network scripted show average for the season. In general, >1.1=certain renewal, .85-1.1=probable renewal, .7-.85=on the bubble, .6-.7=probably cancelled. Anything substantially less than .6 for rookie shows indicates a dead show walking. Prod: Production company that produces the show (ABC=ABC Studios, CBS=CBS Television, Fox=20th Television, NBCU=Universal Television, Sony=Sony Pictures Television, WB=Warner Bros. Television). Incorporates ratings through Sunday, October 4; write-ups do not take into account Tuesday’s ratings. Weekly averages used: ABC 1.89, FOX 1.89, CBS 1.71, NBC 1.66. Network averages used: ABC 2.01, FOX 1.97, CBS 1.87, NBC 1.74.

Read moreBroadcast Rat Race Week 2: “Limitless”, “Quantico”, “Blindspot” Gleaming, “Hollow” Sleeping, “Queens” Screaming