Report: 'Live' programming generates up to 75% of broadcast ratings, reliance on scripted fades

Summarizing the just-completed 2015-16 broadcast TV season in his latest report, analyst Michael Nathanson reveals that the Big Four are now focused on 'live' programming such as sports, awards shows and reality competition, programs, and that the 30-minute sitcom soon could be a thing of the past.

These programing trends have major implications for cable operators, with the pipeline of off-network shows for cable networks drying up. Operators are also paying increasing amounts of broadcast retransmission money to broadcasters who are radically transforming their lineups and syndication models.

"Big picture, the broadcast networks have steadily become the home of live sports, news and reality competition," Nathanson said. "In other words, programming (and advertising) that is being consumed live. To put it into perspective, season to date 'live' programming represents between 45 percent (on ABC) to 75 percent (at NBC) of gross ratings points.

"The shift in consumption and programming patterns has all but killed the 30-minute broadcast sitcom with only 6 percent of gross ratings points (GRPs) now coming from the genre," the analyst added. 

Just because scripted programming accounts for less on-network viewership doesn't necessarily mean the Big Four are abandoning the business. As Nathanson noted, 20 rookie shows survived the 2015-16 season — the best batting average since 2009-10.

However, these shows are increasingly being monetized through SVOD and digital stacking.

"On the traditional syndication front, the high water mark for traditional syndicated prices was reached when NCIS: LA was sold for over $2.2 million per episode to USA Network just after seven weeks on the air, and Hawaii 5-0 was sold to TNT for $2.5 million after one season on the air," Nathanson said.

"However, thanks to the influx of SVOD dollars, it is very difficult to compare the total syndication prices for the dramas that have been sold since as Netflix, Amazon and Hulu have stepped up to pay for exclusivity," he added. "As consumers have shifted to binge viewing for syndicated dramas, linear viewing of these programs has become less desirable in addition to general entertainment networks ramping up more original hours."

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