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By Joe Flint
This article is being republished as part of our daily reproduction of WSJ.com articles that also appeared in the U.S. print edition of The Wall Street Journal (May 17, 2019).
Broadcast networks will debut fewer shows next season than in previous years, a sign of how hard it is for new productions to establish themselves in a world where viewers have hundreds of options.
Walt Disney Co.'s ABC said it would premiere four new shows in the fall, down from seven last year. CBS Corp.'s new-content lineup shrank to five from six, while Fox's and NBC's remained stable at just three each. The CW, a joint venture between AT&T Inc.'s WarnerMedia and CBS, will have three new shows next season, down from five.
"The networks just don't have the marketing budgets to launch all those shows properly," said Karey Burke, president of ABC Entertainment, during a news conference Tuesday. The viewing landscape is becoming so fragmented that it requires a lot more effort to get viewers to discover new shows, she said.
Last year there were nearly 500 original scripted shows available across all video platforms, almost twice as many as in 2011, according to research by Disney's FX Networks. That growth mostly came from streaming services including Netflix Inc. and Amazon.com Inc.'s Prime Video, and the content glut is likely to continue in the years ahead as Apple Inc. and Disney launch streaming services of their own.
"You obviously have a lot of choices for how and where to throw your money away," said ABC late-night host Jimmy Kimmel, who was providing comic relief Tuesday during Disney's presentation to advertisers. "We hope you throw your money away on us."
Viewers are also watching more content on their own schedules. Catch-up viewing through video-on-demand or online is now the norm, not the exception. "The Good Place," a comedy that airs on Comcast Corp.'s NBC, adds an average of nearly seven million viewers to each episode a month after its network airing, according to NBCUniversal's research chief, Jeff Bader. That is almost three times as many as the 2.7 million viewers who watched "The Good Place" within the first 24 hours after an episode's airing.
CBS not only chose to launch fewer shows this fall but also decided to air them on just two nights -- Monday and Thursday -- to use its marketing dollars more effectively, said Kelly Kahl, president of CBS Entertainment. In the past, it wouldn't be unusual for a network to put new shows on four or five nights. But now that would be "a bridge too far," he said.
Instead, networks are increasingly relying on live content, particularly sports, to attract viewers and advertisers. Fox is abandoning entertainment programming on Friday nights in favor of "SmackDown" from World Wrestling Entertainment Inc. Last season, Fox added Thursday night NFL football to its schedule, giving it one less night to program in the fall.
Fox parent Fox Corp. and Wall Street Journal parent News Corp share common ownership.
NBC and ABC are counting on unscripted fare as well to eat up time slots on their schedules. NBC's "The Voice" usually takes up several hours over two nights, as does ABC's "American Idol."
The networks' growing aversion to risk has a few advantages, said Preston Beckman, an industry consultant who held senior programming posts at NBC and Fox.
Too often, he said, networks have opted for the shiny, new and unproven over a show that may not be a massive hit but delivers a steady return.
"Advertisers would prefer to be in programming with certainty in the ratings versus unknown programming," he said.
While that means less excitement next season, it likely will mean "a more successful one both in terms of less failure and bringing in more cash," Mr. Beckman said.
Write to Joe Flint at email@example.com
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
May 17, 2019 02:47 ET (06:47 GMT)
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