After 16 days, more than 40 networks and streaming outlets and hundreds of panels, the Television Critics Association’s summer press tour has come to a end. (If you missed any of Adweek’s TCA coverage, you can find it here.) While most of the networks were focused on their new fall shows, the press tour offered an intriguing glimpse at where the industry is now, how networks are fighting to stay relevant and what’s on the horizon.
Here are the five biggest takeaways from TCA’s summer press tour about the present—and future—state of television:
Digital viewing will save linear networks—eventually
Each of the five broadcast networks pushed back against the narrative of declining linear ratings by insisting that their networks are in fact stronger than ever. That’s thanks to their dominance on digital platforms, where many of their shows double their audiences in delayed viewing. “I don’t think the broadcast narrative should be linear versus digital anymore, but rather linear plus digital,” said NBC Entertainment chairman Robert Greenblatt.
(The CW, notably, adopted this mantra long ago, with network president Mark Pedowitz telling reporters early last year that he doesn’t care which platform audiences use to watch his shows.)
Yet the networks were far fuzzier on specifics about monetizing these robust digital audiences, as the bulk of ad revenue continues to come from linear viewing. Greenblatt said NBCU is monetizing all platforms except for DVR after the seven-day window, though company sources later told Adweek that some monetization gaps still remain. Still, the viewers are there, even if the network can’t yet get advertisers to pay up.
As the networks wait for a wider rollout of Nielsen’s Total Content Ratings, the company is offering new ways to count previously unmeasured audiences via its national out-of-home reporting service. Nielsen shared some early data during the press tour and showed that OOH ratings—which measure viewers who watch content in offices, at bars, in airports and in other places outside their homes—can increase the in-home audience for major sports and news events by almost 20 percent.
There’s nothing like nostalgia
With new shows finding it tougher to break out in a Peak TV world, networks are finding the most success and generating the biggest buzz by reviving (and then renewing) beloved series. NBC quickly ordered a second year of its Will & Grace revival, even though the first season doesn’t premiere for another month.
Revival-related news consistently generated some of the biggest headlines of the press tour. Hulu announced that it had landed streaming rights to five TGIF ’90s sitcoms, including Full House and Family Matters, while YouTube Red enjoyed what had to be its biggest day of buzz ever when it ordered Cobra Kai, which will revisit Ralph Macchio and William Zabka’s characters from the Karate Kid franchise 30 years later.
Elsewhere, Larry David is bringing back Curb Your Enthusiasm this fall after a six-year hiatus (in part because he was tired of being asked about it.) And several other networks said they were looking at properties to revive; Fox has had early talks with King of the Hill producers.
While NBC is going all in on the prospects for Will & Grace, “you can’t imagine the redos we’re batting back,” said Jennifer Salke, NBC Entertainment president. “We’re not going to make a reboot just to have title familiarity. That will fall flat on its face.”
SundanceTV could steal the fall
With FX and AMC having quieter than usual fall slates, AMC’s scrappy sibling SundanceTV could unexpectedly become the most talked-about basic cable network of the season. The network debuted a surprisingly strong slate of three shows at press tour. Top of the Lake: China Girl, a follow-up to the 2013 miniseries about Elisabeth Moss’ troubled detective, adds Nicole Kidman to the cast and should give the network its biggest spotlight yet.
That will lead into series Liar, in which Downton Abbey’s Joanne Froggatt and Ioan Gruffund go on a first date that goes tragically wrong, as she accuses him of raping her. Completing Sundance’s fall hat trick is Cold Blooded: The Cutter Family Murders, from documentary filmmaker Joe Berlinger, about the 1959 Kansas killings that inspired Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood.
While SundanceTV has stayed in AMC’s shadow until now, the network seems poised to grab the spotlight for itself.
Networks ignore diversity red flags at their own peril
For the second straight summer press tour, CBS found itself under fire for the lack of diversity in its fall schedule. Last year, all of its freshman shows’ stars were white; this time around, the new series lacked a single female in a lead role. (To make matters worse, the the two Asian costars of Hawaii Five-O depart this summer over a contract dispute at a time when it lags behind competitors when it comes to featuring actors of color.)
And while the network’s execs said all the right things—“We are absolutely moving in the right direction,” said new CBS Entertainment president Kelly Kahl. “We are making progress.”—it echoed the same promises from last year, which failed to make much change. For starters, at least one CBS exec seemed startled to learn from reporters that the network’s casting department does not contain a single person of color, which would help explain some of its problems.
Similarly, HBO seemed to be tone-deaf when it came to announcing Confederate, its controversial modern-day slavery drama from Game of Thrones’ two white showrunners. HBO programming president Casey Bloys admitted to reporters that the network had bungled the news, and that revealing such a “sensitive” subject via a press release “was misguided on our part.” But given that he “knew the idea would be controversial,” the network should have used extra caution to avoid a scenario that would spark outrage and repel audiences.
TV is great on any screen—except Imax
As programmers touted a new world in which their shows can be viewed—and hopefully before long, monetized—on a variety of screens, the press tour revealed that there is still at least once screen that isn’t a good fit for TV content: Imax.
During a heated, awkward panel, the producers of Marvel’s Inhumans attempted to defend the apparent not-ready-for-Imax quality of their series, which will debut in Imax theaters four weeks before it premieres on ABC. Marvel head of television Jeph Loeb said Marvel is still tinkering with the footage less than a month before its Imax debut, claiming the version that underwhelmed reporters is “not the finished product” while claiming ignorance of the particulars in Marvel and Imax’s partnership. (So Adweek investigated it further.)
It was clear that the producers have bit off more than they can chew in their efforts to make Marvel’s Inhumans seem larger than life. As more creators claim that their series are in fact “10-hour movies,” oftentimes it’s best to just let a TV show be a TV show.