June 21, 2011

THE SKED: Holding on to Network Specials

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Written by: Mitch Metcalf
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Today’s announcement that CBS extended its rights to the Grammy Awards for another 10 years and NBC’s recent winning bid for the next four Olympic Games are evidence that broadcast networks are doing everything possible to keep first-class specials programming on their air.  Specials account for about 20% of a network’s yearly schedule (approximately 80% of the schedule is regular series programming), with very highly-rated (and very costly) specials accounting for probably 5% of the schedule.  (Other less important specials include special news reports and series episodes appearing on different nights.)
Programs like the Academy Awards, the Grammys, the Golden Globes, NFL playoffs and Super Bowl, Olympics and NCAA March Madness are very important additions to a network schedule.  They provide reliably high ratings (the Super Bowl alone, for example, adds 0.1 to 0.2 of a rating point to a network’s season average), and advertisers pay a premium to be in these events because they attract hard-to-reach light television viewers who watch very few regularly-scheduled series.  Moreover, local affiliates love these specials because they differentiate their channels from the competition, and network marketing departments use these broad platforms to promote new shows.  Perhaps most important, these specials allow parent companies to extract higher distribution fees from cable and satellite providers in the increasingly important retransmission consent negotiations for the network’s signal.

Look for networks to continue to keep a tight grip on their legacy special programming by being willing to pay what it takes to keep a competitor from poaching these crown jewels. 

About the Author

Mitch Metcalf
MITCH METCALF has been tracking every US film release of over 500 screens (over 2300 movies and counting) since the storied weekend of May 20, 1994, when Maverick and Beverly Hills Cop 3 inspired countless aficionados to devote their lives to the art of cinema. Prior to that, he studied Politics and Economics at Princeton in order to prepare for his dream of working in television. He has been Head of West Coast Research at ABC, then moved to NBC in 2000 and became Head of Scheduling for 11 years.