What the 5 Broadcast Network Chiefs Have Planned for the Fall TV Season

Their biggest swings and what they offer that streamers can’t

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Cord-cutting and streaming rivals have continued to take their toll on the five broadcast networks, none of which saw audience gains in the coveted adults 18–49 demo last season versus a year earlier (CBS and Fox were flat, while ABC, NBC and The CW all saw season-over-season drops of more than 20%). They’ll hope for better results during the 2019–20 TV season, which begins on Monday, Sept. 23.

Over the coming weeks, the five broadcast networks will premiere 18 new shows (including WWE’s Smackdown Live, which is moving to Fox from USA, and ABC’s Black-ish spinoff Mixed-ish) and 61 returning entertainment series. Adweek spoke with the president of each network to talk about their biggest risks, top priorities and what they offer that streaming services like Netflix can’t.

Adweek: What is your biggest swing this fall?
Karey Burke, president, ABC Entertainment: Kids Say the Darndest Things, because unscripted shows tend to launch in midseason and summer. It’s a big swing to launch one on the fall schedule, in such an important time period [Sundays at 8 p.m.] and against football. But we felt we had the goods with Tiffany [Haddish, who hosts and executive produces] and this title.

Charlie Collier, CEO, Fox Entertainment: Bringing back The Masked Singer [in the fall] and using it to anchor the night on Wednesday, [leading into new drama] Almost Family, is a really big swing for us.

Kelly Kahl, president, CBS Entertainment: I would go with [new comedy] The Unicorn simply because it’s trying to get another single-cam [comedy] up and going [alongside Young Sheldon]. We love the cast and writers, but it’s a different show for us. It’s definitely a big swing, but I think the reward is there if we get it right.

Mark Pedowitz, president, The CW: Stacking for ourselves on our new programming [for the first time, the entire current season of new series like Batwoman and Nancy Drew will be stacked and available to stream via The CW app]. So how to bring viewers to the stack and then bring them back to the linear broadcast.

Courtesy of ABC, Getty Images, CBS, The CW, and NBC

Paul Telegdy, co-chairman, NBC Entertainment: There is a very big strategic outcome wrapped up in the decisions around the comedies [Perfect Harmony and Sunnyside], which is [that] we are going big as a company into the legacy of the NBC comedy brand. We are going to be continuing to build Thursday night as a destination for the smartest comedies on television.

This season, what’s your top priority?
Burke: I want us to get back to being No. 1, with women, certainly, and adults 18–49.

Collier: It’s to continue the momentum we’re building for Fox Entertainment. Not just the broadcast network; for the entertainment company.

Kahl: There’s two. All of our new shows are on two nights, which makes it a little easier in terms of focusing our marketing. It’s all-in on Monday, and it’s all-in on Thursday. They’re key nights of the week for establishing momentum. Thursday is obviously a huge night in terms of advertising, so I think keeping us in a dominant position on Thursdays will be huge.

Pedowitz: Again, bringing the viewers to the stack and back to the linear broadcast.

Telegdy: Going into the ’19–20 season, the ’20 part of that contains what by some estimations will be the largest aggregation of television audiences in the history of mankind: the Tokyo Olympics. Using the Olympics to maximum effect is probably the key strategic priority.

Why should brands advertise on your network?
Burke: Because we deliver 150 million viewers every month. Because we surround their content with high-quality, family-friendly content, and there’s just no match for our reach and quality.

Collier: I grew up in ad sales. If you look at what advertisers are trying to accomplish, which is a combination of specific audiences and broad reach and breadth, Fox has the best of both worlds. Where else can you get the Super Bowl and Ryan Murphy? Where else can you get the NFC Championship Game and the No. 1 unscripted show on television [The Masked Singer]?

Kahl: It’s a safe environment, return on investment … and I think our shows are offering more in terms of being really meaningful. The shows aren’t just there to make you laugh or to catch a bad guy at the end of the episode. They’re there to make you genuinely feel something, and any show that can coax some emotion out of the viewer is a really great place to tout a product or a service.

Pedowitz: Because we offer the most unique opportunity and we are the original multiplatform place. [Ad sales chief] Rob Tuck and his sales team do a remarkable job selling both [linear and digital]. We offer advertisers the ability to go into [the] digital space as well as the linear space, and they can go back and forth. And we have shows that people want to see.

Telegdy: In terms of NBC versus our broadcast competitors, obviously the success and the qualities of the shows themselves. Versus the wider advertising market, the content guidelines within which we operate and the brand values of NBC—human first, fundamentally focused and inherent ingenuity, invention and inclusion. And there’s scale, scale, scale. In order to get ubiquitous, transcontinental reach, you better be buying NBCUniversal.

What does your network offer that streaming services can’t?
Burke: I’ll give you three: reach, relevance and endurance. We are a platform where, if you have a show that has many, many chapters that can and should endure beyond three seasons, ABC is the place for that. We are happily and proudly the home of shows that have lasted for generations, and that is something that the streamers at this point can’t yet compete with.

Collier: I think the best of both worlds is the answer. If you think about a creator willing to bet on themselves and to bet on the holy grail of television, which is the back-end [where they can make the most money if their show is a hit]. They can come to Fox and bring their broadcast shows here, and they can work with us or [our content development company] SideCar and craft the right shows for our platform, and we’ll help them get their other creative visions to the right platforms if it’s not Fox. So it is the ability to grow and invest and win—the way that only a broadcaster can.

Kahl: We offer engagement on a weekly basis, not a one-week basis. People look forward to their favorite shows, and they can watch for six or seven months. It’s not “binge over the weekend and see you two years later.” I see that as a strength.

Pedowitz: We’ve been [in streaming] for over 10 years. We are the preeminent ad-VOD service around. We are not trying to compete with SVOD services. We’re complementary; we’re curated, and the shows that are on our ad-VOD services fit the brand.

Telegdy: As a company, we lean into the capabilities that will allow shows to last decades, not seasons. Whether it’s Lorne Michaels in the 45th year of SNL or Mariska Hargitay and Dick Wolf heading into the 21st year of SVU, the longevity and being a part of the fabric of American culture is something that [streamers] can’t [yet offer].

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This story first appeared in the Sept. 16, 2019, issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.