February 20, 2012

The Sked: PROMO WATCH — Update through February 19

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Written by: Mitch Salem
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>Over halfway through the February ratings sweep, the broadcast networks continue to exhibit very different strategies in allocating their precious on-air promotion time to market and launch new programs as well as supporting their existing schedules.  (Click “read more” to see the latest chart.)

NBC.  NBC continues to promote fewer priorities each with massive levels of support.  Over the past few weeks in prime time, NBC has devoted 29 seconds per hour on average to the new drama Awake, the highest level on any network.  The complexity of the story (when is he awake? when is he dreaming? are there two dream worlds or just one?) requires longer-length spots (most often 45-second lengths in this case).  And because of NBC’s ratings shortfalls, these spots are running very frequently to extend the campaign’s reach as much as possible.  As the table below illustrates, a 20-second average per hour is a high allocation for most networks.  How is NBC doing this? Quite simply by promoting far fewer programs at the roughly 5 second per hour maintenance level for exiting shows.  Many marginal shows (and there are plenty to choose from on the NBC schedule) are getting zero promotion to create more time for future shows.  Smash also continues to receive a high level of support (26 seconds per hour on average).  Notably, the campaign has shifted away from tired lines like “She’s a STAR!” or “She glows!” to a reliance on quotes from superb critical reviews and most recently this past week many lines suggesting sex (who is sleeping with whom, who is straight and who is gay) will play a major role in the next few episodes.   The third priority, Fashion Star (18 seconds per hour), would be #1 on most other networks is also being hit hard, still promising that viewers can buy the winning designs in stores the next day.  Finally, The Voice (10 seconds per hour) celebrates the playful judges who will “charm” and “flirt” with the contestants and the audience.

ABCRevenge (19 seconds per hour) has been the #1 priority on ABC for the past few weeks.  The network really wants to make the show work, promising it’s “not too late” to join the fun.  But history shows it is incredibly tough to actually convince viewers to join a serialized drama in progress.  GCB (15 seconds per hour) is being promoted most often with a 30-second rhyming spot that drops the word “bitches” (from the show’s original title) just as one expects to hear it uttered (with not so clever rhymes like “riches” or “stitches” or “witches”).   But at 15 seconds per hour, this is far from a full court press.  Other shows (The River, Castle, Cougar Town and the Grey’s Anatomy/Private Practice crossover event) received decent levels at 10 seconds per hour or more, but nothing is really receiving the all-in bet of a winner.  Curiously, the Oscars is the next level down (at 9 seconds per hour).  Perhaps it is a wise decision.   The lack of broadly appealing movies among the nominees and the dearth of close races in many categories will probably make the Academy Awards one of the lowest-rated in history, no matter how many promos they throw at it.  And let’s face it, the return of Billy Chrystal as host will not draw many viewers under 40 or 50.   New dramas Missing starring Ashley Judd (7 seconds) and Scandal (5 seconds) come later in the spring.  If the promo allocation numbers start increasing for either, we will know how ABC really feels about the shows.  Scandal is promoted almost exclusively inside Shonda Rhimes’ own real estate Thursdays 9-11 pm (inside Grey’s and Private Practice). 

CBS.  The return of Survivor and Amazing Race (each at 17 seconds per hour) were the main priorities the past few weeks.  As established franchises, they certainly did not warrant much more time. Person of Interest (15 seconds) and Unforgettable (13 seconds) represent an attempt to take these freshman dramas to another level, with the former having a much better chance of inching up in the ratings than the former.   A high number of CBS shows receive about 5 seconds per hour, barely maintenance/ reminder levels, but the CBS audience is loyal and does need much convincing to stay with what they like and know.  

FOX. The #1 priority on FOX is a lowly 14 seconds per hour for Glee.  Everything is changing, the spot promises, suggesting weddings and pregnancies might be coming.  The audience is skeptical and savvy, however, and this spot feels like it might be over-promising.   The one new show getting a decent level of promotion is Breaking In (with Megan Mullally joining the cast), but at only 10 seconds per hour, the spots will have limited ability to cut through the clutter.  With so many key shows in decline and nothing new on the horizon, FOX just isn’t sure what to push.   

                          PROMO WATCH
                    Top Priorities by Network
              On-Air Promo Seconds per Hour Sampled

                 Past Two Weeks (Feb 6-19, 2011)
      ABC                          CBS
     Revenge            19        Survivor           17
     GCB                15        Amazing Race       17
     The River          13        Person of Interest 15
     Castle             11        Unforgettable      13
     Cougar Town        11        NCIS Los Angeles   10
     Grey’s/Private     10

     NBC                          FOX
     Awake              29        Glee               14
     Smash              26        American Idol      13
     Fashion Star       18        Alcatraz           11
     The Voice          10        New Girl           10
                                  Breaking In        10


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."