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Fall TV 2022: Broadcasters ride the waves, streamers make them

For some of us, the fall TV season once meant the excited anticipation of the annual TV Guide fall TV preview issue, the bleary-eyed marathon of new cartoons on Saturday mornings, and the occasional intra-family battle for control of the “good TV.” The publishing business tries to keep the flame alive with their fall arts and entertainment previews, but of course it’s not quite the same.

This begs the question – is there actually a fall TV season anymore? If so, what does it look like? An innovative data analytics platform called Diesel Labs provided me with some fascinating insights to help understand how consumers are navigating the shifting seasons in traditional linear TV and the still-emerging streaming platforms.

Diesel Labs provides “data solutions for media companies deciding what to make, where to market and how to measure success.” It draws upon a tsunami of data from social media to bring a deeper understanding of what content is resonating with consumers in the market. And the company is led by Anjali Midha, a creative leader with a deep track record in interpreting consumer behavior at Twitter (well before Elon Musk got involved).

Diesel Labs deploys a few key metrics to paint a picture of how consumers engage with video programing. They look at the overall volume of the “conversation” on social media and the “share of voice” claimed by each different TV outlet from individual broadcast networks to free ad-supported streamed TV. They also dig deeper on what they categorize as “blockbuster” programs that generated at least 10% of a sustained share of voice and “high performance shows” that manage on their own to generate at least 2-5% of share of voice in any particular month.

So, all that being said, here are a few key takeaways on what “fall TV” still looks like.

Diesel Labs tracked 124 million separate engagements with TV content in 2021, with a fairly steady level of overall conversation during the year. Broadcast programming earned just under 36 million of those engagements. By comparison, in 2022 Diesel Labs has seen a very pronounced upswing in the total conversation in the third quarter, before the fall even started, with close to half of the entire year’s engagements taking place in the quarter.

Broadcasters, like the rest of the TV universe, have seen the volume of their conversation rise in the third quarter, which includes the traditional fall kickoff month of September. But their share of voice has actually declined as the streaming services collectively accelerated their engagements dramatically in the third quarter while the share of voice for streaming services rose appreciably. Diesel Labs counted just under 10 million streaming-related engagements in the third quarter, less than half of the conversation enjoyed by streaming services. Even broadcasters’ traditional September launching pad didn’t change the equation.

The TV “conversation” is linked to hits, not seasons

I believe Aristophanes first observed that “it’s a hits-driven business.” In any case, the consumer engagement with TV and programming is linked as much or more than ever to the launch of specific popular programs. The calendar has a fraction of that impact. Of all media and entertainment conversation, the leading 1% of content titles generated roughly 30% of all engagement.

In both 2021 and 2022, Diesel Labs found that the total volume of conversation in media and entertainment was higher in the second half of the year than the first. But in the third quarter of 2022, engagement jumped dramatically, more than 61% higher than it had been through the first half of the year. This increase in chatter was heavily driven by a group of streaming hits: Stranger Things from Netflix NFLX -1.3%, House of the Dragon from HBO and HBO Max, the new Lord of the Rings series on Amazon Prime and Disney+’s She-Hulk Attorney at Law. Of course, each of these shows was launched over the summer, even before the unofficial Labor Day start to “fall.”

The most audience engagement among new cable network programming went to AMC’s Better Call Saul (including its series finale) and Bravo’s The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills and The Real Housewives of Atlanta. The other most buzzed about cable program was Breaking Bad, which actually ended in 2013, but benefitted from its buzzy prequel/sequel Better Call Saul. This was really another feather in the cap for streaming, though, as Breaking Bad has been a Netflix staple for years.

As for traditional broadcasting fall kickoffs, only CBS’s Big Brother managed to break into the top five in volume of conversation. For all the Emmys love and attention to Abbott Elementary, its appeal as something on an old-fashioned solid ensemble comedy doesn’t generate quite the social media heat of the streaming market leaders.

The release schedule still skews towards fall and everybody joins in

Back in 2015, the President of FXFX -0.6% Jon Landgraf famously declared that “there’s simply too much television.” By now we all know – Landgraf as much as anyone – that TV didn’t peak that year, and its production momentum has endured, even through the pandemic. In the last two years the TV release schedule still skews towards the back end of the calendar. But for broadcasters, it’s simply another confirmation of the competitive marketplace in which they operate now.

Diesel Labs keep tabs on the total volume of original video releases which includes films as well as series. They reported that in 2021 new titles totaled 2231 (ever wonder why you feel like you’re behind in your streaming viewing?). The second half of the year saw 1303 releases and 919 of them came in the last 4 months of the year. In 2022, the total number of releases through October is roughly comparable to 2021, with 1548 in 2022 compared to 1514 last year. September saw the largest number of releases of any month of 2022, but as noted earlier, the buzziest shows actually hit the market before September did.

It’s hardly surprising that any new broadcast programming has trouble making a big splash in such a vast sea, but the numbers are illuminating. In 2021 broadcast TV released 199 new titles over the course of the year. Eighty-eight of those came in the last four months of the year, less than one-tenth of the total new releases in that time frame.

Broadcasters slowed their original releases in 2022 (2021 likely benefited from a back-up from 2020’s production hiatuses). Through the first 10 months of the year broadcasters have released 99 new titles against 1712 in the entire video marketplace. The third quarter of 2022 has actually seen a pronounced dip for broadcasters from a year ago, with 29 new releases versus 41. And this against a backdrop of 576 total releases in the quarter. If fall TV still means anything, it certainly doesn’t mean broadcasting anymore. Forbes

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