May 30, 2013

THE SKED: NBC Renews “Hannibal” and Network TV Changes Some More


NBC’s decision, announced today, to bring back its series HANNIBAL for a second season (probably again at midseason) provides some insight into how the network television business has changed, and will continue changing.  By any traditional ratings analysis, renewing Hannibal would seem as insane as one of its many darkly murderous characters:  although technically the show has a 2.0 average when longterm viewing is taken into account, its most recent ratings for live/same day viewing (still the best guide to what advertisers actually pay, since they count only views of the commercials within the shows during the 3 days after initial airing) have hovered around a dismal 1.1, which would be considered merely OK even on basic cable.  (Hannibal was regularly outrated by A&E’s horror prequel Bates Motel.)

But Hannibal is produced under a different business model than conventional network TV, much of its cost covered by a consortium of foreign production companies and broadcasters.  There’s value for those partners in having the show air as an American network series, and so they’re willing to let NBC pay a much lower license fee than the historic model would permit.  NBC may give up some ancillary rights and creative control, but the numbers work in terms of the minimum rating the show needs to hit in order to pay for itself, particularly because while Hannibal is low-rated, it does disproportionately well with younger and higher-income viewers, groups that advertisers will pay a premium to reach.  Reportedly, if NBC had dropped the show, there were cable and streaming services that would have been happy to pick it up on similar terms.

Of course, low-cost international coproductions aren’t new–summer TV, like ABC’s Rookie Blue and Motive, is dotted with them.  But Hannibal marks the first time the model has worked for an in-season network series.  There are going to be more of these kinds of shows on network TV.  NBC has DRACULA airing on Fridays next fall, and the pirate adventure CROSSBONES (starring John Malkovich!) at midseason.  Of course, airing these shows furthers the niche-ification of network TV, but that seems unstoppable.  This, at least, is a way the networks can keep the lights on for the number of hours they currently program.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."