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Two network executives discuss a show changing networks

When Shows Have a Network Change, Do Viewers and Advertisers Follow?

October 30th, 2018   ||    by Todd Wasserman

Brooklyn Nine-Nine underwent a network change this year. In the span of 30 hours, the show went from canceled at Fox to renewed for a sixth season on NBC. For viewers, the only difference is the network. As showrunner Dan Goor told The Hollywood Reporter, “I would be surprised if the show changed in any fundamental way going over to NBC.”

That show isn’t the only one to make a network change. Last year, American Idol made a similar leap. After a 15-year run on Fox, ABC picked up the show, according to USA Today. Fox also picked up Last Man Standing after ABC canceled it last year. Other shows that have jumped networks include Community, Scrubs, and Friday Night Lights (Decider offers an exhaustive rundown). But while viewers often follow their favorite shows, that’s not true for advertisers.

Why Networks Pick up Canceled Shows

Networks have disparate reasons for picking up shows that other networks have rejected. Brooklyn Nine-Nine is produced by NBC sister studio Universal TV. Deadline reported that Fox was paying license fees of $1.9 million per episode for the show, which it considered too expensive. NBC would presumably pay a lot less.

In other cases, a network feels it can do a better job marketing and guiding a once-popular fading show. That was ABC’s rationale behind opting to pick up Idol. Over the course of 15 seasons, Idol went from being a profitable hit for Fox to a liability. ABC is hoping that adding some new celebrity judges, including Lionel Richie and Luke Bryan, will attract fans who have tuned out. ABC is spending $59 million this season for its all-star judging team, which is 60 percent more than Fox spent in its last season, according to Forbes. Unfortunately for ABC, Idol has not been a ratings hit.

The Effect on Viewership

Research shows that the networks are making a solid bet. BTIG analyst Rich Greenfield wrote in a recent report that most viewers are loyal to shows rather than networks. “When you watch ‘This is Us‘ on Hulu, do you know or even care that it airs on NBC?” Greenfield wrote, according to MarketWatch.

Local TV stations have their own ways to cultivate loyalty. Local stations have found, for instance, that viewers will tune in to watch their favorite local anchors. A survey of local news viewers found that almost half were very loyal to a station—and 22 percent of those were loyal because of the newscasters themselves, reported SpotsnDots.

The Effect on Advertisers

Advertisers aren’t as loyal. When Idol moved to ABC, it picked up new sponsors Macy’s and Zyrtec. The advertisers most associated with the show, Coca-Cola and AT&T, had left the show in 2014. The other advertiser associated with Idol, Ford, cut back on its ad spending related to the show, according to Variety.

Meanwhile, since networks sell much of their inventory during the upfronts, individual television shows are less important than the aggregate selection of programs that the network has assembled in a given year, per Digiday. Often, a program is a better fit for a network’s brand. Supergirl flew from CBS to the CW, for instance, in part because the CW has a more youth-oriented image that mirrored that show’s audience, reported Variety. Tim Allen’s Last Man Standing moved from ABC to Fox in part because the latter network was a better fit with the show’s and the star’s conservative viewpoint, noted Deadline.

For advertisers then, individual shows are notable because they’re established properties that presumably have built-in name recognition and an audience. But, as ABC’s experience with Idol shows, you have to take into account the audience’s fatigue with the property as well. For that reason, picking up a show from another network is rarely the game changer that network executives hope it might be.

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