We are again in the midst of the media industry’s annual blitz of news and fanfare about the upcoming television season and programmers’ pitches to brands for their advertising dollars. According to Adweek, A+E was out first with their presentation this year on March 2. Traditional and new creators and distributors of video (with the lines between increasingly blurring) are showcasing a bevy of new programs and returning favorites.
Invitations to these events are coveted, but increasingly available virtually to consumers as well. The upfronts dominate industry conversation and press coverage over months of negotiations for advance commitments by advertisers. The offer is to lock in space for their brands within the shows deemed most likely to strike a chord with viewers and command large audiences. But, large audiences are defined quite differently these days.
The legacy premise for the upfronts is scarcity. “Dear advertiser: commit now or potentially miss out.” Many industry observers have already given tremendous thought to whether the upfronts are an anachronism from a former golden age of television. And many also see a new golden age of television, or peak TV, where viewers face a paradox of choice among content of nearly every conceivable genre across myriad streamers and channels,
In the age of peak TV, new programming is launched throughout the year, with new options appearing not just in fall, winter, spring, and summer seasons, but monthly!
The now quenched drought of new TV content in the summer inspired us to question whether the annual new fall TV season was still anticipated by viewers. Does it still hold cache with viewers or have streamers like Netflix, HBOMax, Peacock, and Discovery+ disrupted things so much that the concept has lost its luster?
The answer is yes… and no.
Consumers still want new TV seasons, but to varying degrees
Utilizing our CX platform through which consumers share their opinions and behaviors with brands, we learned that despite the dramatic transformation in how and when new video programs are introduced, most people think we still need traditional TV seasons.
However, this belief was not necessarily predictable by age. Perhaps driven by a sense of nostalgia, older Millennials and Gen Xers were more likely to agree that we still need traditional TV seasons, and, while Gen Z and Baby Boomers were not as enthusiastic, more than 50% still embraced the concept.*
Because we are also able to study the online behaviors of our 100% opted-in DISQO audience members, we were able to match their stated desire for a new TV season with their actual online activity. Not surprisingly, when looking at people who were interested in streaming services, defined as those who have visited streaming sites or searched for streaming services in the past six months, they were 10% less likely to say they felt that the traditional TV season was still needed.**
New program debuts are still anticipated
We also wanted to know how eager people were for new shows and asked about their desire to watch new shows when they first come out on different platforms. We learned that they are more likely to watch new shows when they first come out on streaming services – which was true for nearly all age groups. Not surprisingly, only those over 65 were more likely to stick to watching new TV shows on traditional broadcast/cable TV. But, regardless of age group, whether it’s on broadcast/cable TV or a streaming platform, consumers say they watch new programs when they first come out.
We know, of course, that many people binge entire catalogs of older shows too, but this was outside of the scope of our study, which was focused on understanding how excited people are for new shows and whether compartmentalizing the debut of new shows into traditional TV seasons still had relevance.
The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on TV viewing
As the world continues adapting to the pandemic’s ebb and flow, the media industry and the advertisers who depend on it to build their brands and drive sales will need to take an agile approach and continue their evolution to match.
To gain a better understanding of the pandemic’s effect on viewers, we asked them how much they felt it impacted them thus far. That most people said they’ve watched more TV since the pandemic began is not a surprise, but when the responses to this question are illustrated, it’s clear that our viewing habits were significantly altered: with a mere 9% of men saying they watched a little or a lot less and 6% of women saying the same. Men were far more likely to say that they watched a lot more at 42% versus 29% of women.
ABC is said to have delivered the first upfront presentation back in 1962. Then, there were just three broadcast networks, distributed over air and offering a very limited slate of primetime programming available for reaching the massive US TV viewing audience. Last year, it’s estimated that 559 new English-language scripted shows debuted across streaming, broadcast and cable outlets in the US, a 13% jump from 2020 according to the annual count by FX.
Scarcity is no longer a problem for advertisers, nor for the consumers they are trying to reach. But as we learned through DISQO’s study, most people still find value in their TV seasons. There may be many reasons driving this desire, including nostalgia. It may also be that seasonal promotions of new shows aid in viewers’ discovery and decision making, as they face the paradox of choice that has become “what to watch.”
DISQO is a CX platform powering decision-makers to question, test, and measure products, advertising, and brand experiences at remarkable speed. DISQO’s expanding portfolio of insights and advertising measurement applications is built on a fully consented consumer data platform accessible via API integrations, dashboards, and a world-class customer success team.
*Survey of 55,630 adult DISQO audience members in February 2022
**Based on 10,621 consumers between October 2021 - March 2022