Bold promises of matching the reach and scale of traditional broadcast networks has been part of the streaming world rhetoric for a good few years. Are we finally seeing this come to fruition with NBCUniversal’s plans to go back to affiliates instead of primetime programming? Brandon Blake, the entertainment lawyer with Blake & Wang P.A, looks deeper into the issue.
Swapping Primetime for Affiliate
This week we see NBCUniversal announce that they are considering dropping their 10 pm‘ primetime programming’ block back to affiliate stations. Even if it goes ahead, this is a while off- we’re talking 2023 at the earliest. Let’s not also lose sight of the fact that Nexstar is struggling to turn CW into a success story. While it’s not a fully distributed cable or broadcast network, of course, that continual operating loss is a red flag for the wider industry.
Let’s be honest. Costs are creeping higher at the moment, and for broadcast networks, especially those also dabbling in the streaming arena, it’s a growing concern. Perhaps scaling back on content spending for broadcast primetime, echoing the declines in linear/pay-TV ratings, makes sense.
Sports and Unscripted
As streaming has exploded, the only arenas in which broadcasting still outperforms streaming is live sports and unscripted programming. And it’s not like the higher demand for sporting coverage hasn’t driven bidding costs higher there, either. As more and more entertainment entities have fingers in all pies, broadcast is no longer the heavy-hitter in the overall ‘family’ of entertainment programing. NBCUniversal has been particularly vocal in embracing a new ‘blended’ approach to programming and budgets alike. They’re even sending some of their most lucrative live sporting events to Peacock exclusively rather than sticking to the traditional broadcast options.
Not that this news has always gone down well with affiliates. Their proposition to likewise allow Peacock Premium viewers to access The Tonight Show caused some noted grumbling. However, the idea of a leaner and tighter primetime schedule seems to be gaining traction, with similar moves in the Disney, Fox, and Paramount stables.
So it seems a major shift in the overall broadcast landscape is underway, like it or not. Where we haven’t seen much input, however, is from the advertisers involved in the legacy broadcast landscape. However, we have seen some of the TV ad business migrate to streaming, especially as the AVOD model becomes more widespread.
How far this overall defunding of the broadcast landscape in favor of streaming or holistic models will go, it’s hard to tell at present. Will we see further declines in broadcast and linear, or is there a correction due to the streaming-focused models most companies are now relying on? Or will we reach a plateau where both remain relevant?
Certainly, ad-supported programming is going nowhere, whether those ads run on linear or streaming services. However, this shift in the traditional operational model is certainly one to keep an eye on as the new normal refines itself in the wider entertainment landscape.