MIAMI — The impact of Peak TV is all anyone can talk about in the primetime arena. But daytime TV is dealing with the opposite problem: a dearth of new offerings.
Executives who gathered at the NATPE conference this week cited the dilemma that many stations face in having little to choose from in the way of new strips for daytime, afternoon, and early evening hours. One of the biggest impediments is the lack of available time slots in some of the largest markets.
The most crucial stations in New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago are stocked up with franchise shows as far out as 2020 in some cases. That gives distributors less incentive to roll the dice on a costly new launch if the best time periods in the biggest markets are sure to be occupied for years. And yet there are plenty of middle-market stations out there that are hungry for new material. The drought of new offerings is one reason why larger station groups are starting to develop their own shows with national ambitions.
“It’s a weird time,” said Debmar-Mercury co-president Mort Marcus. “The ABC, CBS, and NBC affiliates in New York, L.A., and Chicago don’t have any room for shows, but there are plenty of ABC, CBS, and NBC affiliates in other markets that need shows.”
Greg Meidel, president of Fox’s Twentieth Television syndication unit, agreed.
“It’s kind of a gridlock,” he said. “It limits your opportunity to come to market with new product. … We’re not going to throw something against the wall and see if it sticks. Years ago we all did that, but the cost of failure is so substantial.”
Twentieth TV is the distributor of the most high-profile new strip offering for fall 2017, “Page Six TV.” The project is a family affair for Rupert Murdoch’s empire as it’s derived from the New York Post gossip pages, produced by Endemol Shine North America and will air across the Fox O&O group in desirable afternoon or early evening time periods.
Given the show’s pedigree, Meidel and Co. were taking their time in lining up station affiliates for “Page Six” outside of the Fox markets. There’s no land rush to secure clearances at any cost as in the days of old at NATPE when multiple shows were vying for limited real estate. Moreover, the industry is expecting decisions soon on the fate of 2016’s newcomers, NBCUniversal’s “Harry” and Tegna’s “T.D. Jakes.” If one of both of those shows is confirmed to go away by next fall, desirable time periods could open up in some markets. As of Thursday, Twentieth had not revealed any new clearances for “Page Six.”
As always, the gathering of broadcasters, programmers, and distributors in the balmy Miami air spurred endless back-slapping reunions, impromptu meetings in hallways, and late-night bonding at the Fontainebleau Hotel bar during the Tuesday-Thursday span of the conference.
The chatter at the show this time around seemed to focus on whether media M&A will pick up in the wake of the AT&T-Time Warner deal — and whether that $85.4 billion mega-merger will make it to the finish line under the Trump administration. The fate of CBS Viacom, Sony Pictures, and Tribune Media were much discussed. So was the looming outcome of the broadcast spectrum auction — and whether it will provide a windfall for station owners willing to sell — and the potential for an anti-regulatory regime at the FCC to lift or eliminate the current cap on TV station ownership. (The limit now stands at 39% of U.S. TV households, with some caveats).
One of the glossier announcements to come out of NATPE this year reflected another industry trend: high-end scripted programming aimed first and foremost at the U.S. market, but funded by international production entities.
Studiocanal’s Tandem Productions banner is working with Callie Khouri and showrunner Juan Carlos Coto (“From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series”) to field the ensembler “Deep City,” a music-driven character drama set in Miami. Universal Music Group, Studiocanal’s corporate sibling under the Vivendi umbrella, is also a partner in the venture. T Bone Burnett, who is married to Khouri, is on board to supervise the music. The property will be shopped to U.S. outlets next month.
NATPE itself played a central role in bringing “Deep City” to life. Studiocanal TV managing director Rola Bauer, who sold her Tandem banner to the French conglom five years ago, was struck by the crossroads-of-the-world sizzle of Miami when she made the trek to NATPE in 2015, after skipping the confab for many years.
“I was truly inspired by this city,” Bauer told Variety. “It has a musical tone to it. All of that vibrancy makes for good drama.”
(Pictured: “Page Six TV”)