Networks shoot for shorter windows

Fan demand drives day-and-date strategy

SYDNEY — In September last year, Network Ten had a qualified success with its near day-and-date launch of CBS Paramount’s drama “Jericho,” the first time a free-to-air network has gone day-and-date with a U.S. drama Down Under.

Skein delivered 1.2 million eyeballs when it screened less than a day after its Stateside preem, and it scored a 41% share in Ten’s target 16-39 demo.

And increasing year-round programming pressure from ascendant paybox Foxtel and a new deal between Ten, Foxtel and 20th Century Fox television allowing more day-and-date programming could mean that frustrating delays with Stateside fare may soon be a thing of the past for Aussie auds.

Hit any television blog devoted to discussing television Down Under, and the most consistent complaint is the delay in getting U.S. skeins; second is when the free webs do air series, they tend to chop and change the times, or suspend the series for weeks at a time. Previously, auds have had to lump it, but with broadband penetration in Oz reaching record levels, viewers are increasingly turning to BitTorrent — and piracy.

But all this may be about to change as day-and-date becomes a key marketing plank for 2007.

“We’re keen on the strategy,” says Ten’s programming topper David Mott. “We’re not going to do it for all shows. ‘Jericho’ did lend itself because it was a serial-based drama.”

Mott believes the day-and-date strategy is better suited to a “24”-style skein with an ongoing storyline than a skein like “CSI” and says he was pleased with “Jericho’s” bow.

“The support from CBS Paramount on that show was quite phenomenal, because it was the first of its kind for a drama series,” Mott says. “It was amazing to see the U.S. figures for the launch, and then a few hours later get our figures. It was quite a buzz.”

Richard Samuels, senior VP/MD of sales for 20th Century Fox Television Asia, agrees that day-and-date is on the increase and says that the networks will have to be nimble enough to cope with sudden changes in the U.S. if they adopt the strategy.

“It is going to become a much more dominant feature of free-to-air broadcasting,” he predicts. “Part of that is the fact that windows are shrinking, and all of us are cognizant of the threat of piracy.”

By offering near day-and-date broadcasts, Aussie webs are not only able to beat the pirates, but also capitalize on the Stateside buzz for a new show, now available online within minutes of a skein’s bow, Samuels says.

Paybox Foxtel is no stranger to day-and-date, with many of its entertainment skeins already near-to-live with the U.S. For instance, “Entertainment Tonight,” “Inside Edition,” “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart” and “The Colbert Report” routinely hit Aussie airwaves while their news — or news parody — is still fresh.

Foxtel television and marketing topper Brian Walsh says access to technology means that such topical skeins must either go out quickly or — with the wealth of media delivery options open to consumers — they will suffer.

“We are programming 24/7, 52 weeks of the year for performance and ratings on that basis,” he explains. “Whether a firstrun Fox series goes to air on Christmas Eve or mid-March is of no matter to me. It’s just a matter of having it first.”

The other free webs, Seven Network and Nine Network, are taking a more cautious approach to the idea, though Seven has started launching its socko hits in January a few weeks before the traditional start to the yearly ratings period to help them gain momentum.

According to Seven Network’s Simon Francis, “Undoubtedly, Nine and Ten would love Seven to run new episodes of ‘Desperate Housewives,’ ‘Lost,’ ‘Grey’s Anatomy,’ ‘Heroes,’ ‘Prison Break’ and ‘Ugly Betty’ in non-survey period.” But going day-and-date has its challenges, he says: “There are the potential issues resulting from early cancellation, timeslot shifting or preemption of series by the American networks.”

But Mott reckons that despite the hurdles, the pressure from frustrated auds, new technology and two webs actively going day-and-date will change the marketplace.

“Yes, we were the first,” he says, “but I think you’ll see other networks looking closely at it this year and considering their options in the September-October period.”

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