The 7 Biggest Things We Learned About TV’s Future at TCA Winter Press Tour

From broadcasters’ event strategy to a wave of multiseason renewals

Paul Telegdy, Karey Burke, John Landgraf, Jennifer Salke, Kevin Reilly
NBC's Paul Telegdy, ABC's Karey Burke, FX's John Landgraf, Amazon's Jennifer Salke and WarnerMedia's Kevin Reilly were among the execs making waves at the Television Critics Association's winter gathering. NBCUniversal, ABC, Getty Images

After 13 days, the Television Critics Association’s winter press tour wrapped on Sunday with several dozen broadcast, cable and streaming outlets sharing their programming plans for the first half of 2020.

The semiannual TCA press tour always offers a fascinating glimpse into the current state of the TV industry, as the influx of new streaming services (with even more on tap for this year) resulted in a record-breaking 532 scripted programs that aired in 2019. The networks addressed some of the industry’s biggest questions going into press tour as they set their agendas for the coming year—and beyond.

Here are the seven biggest TCA takeaways about the future of television and what the industry will look like in 2020:

Broadcasters Go Big

After spending much of summer press tour claiming that they were “superior” to Netflix, several broadcast networks backed up those statements with new event strategies that they hope will leverage the power of broadcast TV over its streaming rivals. ABC will now air at least one live or tentpole event every month (including its wildly successful Jeopardy! The Greatest of All Time tournament, as well as a live episode of The Conners on Feb. 11, the night of the New Hampshire presidential primary.

NBC expanded its own events schedule and committed to several future programs including a 10-part global documentary series, The New World, that won’t air until after the Summer Olympics … in 2024. CBS also got in on the action, ordering three more prime-time Price Is Right specials.

Keep Calm and Stream On

While the broadcasters were stocking up on event shows, the streaming services spent their press tour sessions insisting that they weren’t worried about streamageddon and the possibility of losing customers amid the increased competition. New and upcoming streaming services (like Peacock, which held its investor day in New York while press tour was occurring in Pasadena, Calif.) “have not and will not lead to negative impact on our growth,” said Marc DeBevoise, chief digital officer of ViacomCBS and CEO and president of CBS Interactive, about CBS All Access.

As streamers outbid one another for coveted library shows like Friends and The Office, Hulu svp and head of originals Craig Erwich—who soon will be losing Seinfeld and South Park (to Netflix and HBO Max, respectively)—said that “one show does not make a service” and that the quality of a service’s original series slate will be the ultimate differentiator.

Amazon, meanwhile, isn’t thinking about competition at all. “We’re so focused on our customers that all these other players are really in a different world. We’re in a very different business model,” said Albert Cheng, COO and co-head of television for Amazon Studios. And Kevin Reilly, chief content officer for HBO Max and president of TNT, TBS and TruTV, said he doesn’t like the phrase “streaming wars,” adding, “As these services premiere and roll out, they are all really quite different.”

(Apple TV+, meanwhile, had nothing to say about its rivals: It was the only streaming service at press tour that did not have any execs speak to the media.)

And Discovery president and CEO David Zaslav said there’s still a big empty space in the streaming universe, which his company will fill with an OTT offering aimed at female viewers and their families. Other streaming services on the market are “all pretty much the same, with scripted series and scripted movies,” he said. “Nobody is really serving women and families in a really compelling way.”

Multiseason Renewals Are Multiplying

Not too long ago, multiseason renewals were reserved for TV’s highest-rated shows, like This Is Us and The Big Bang Theory. But networks were handing them out left and right during the press tour as they tried to solidify their linear lineups for years to come. Comedy Central led the change by giving Tosh.0 a four-season extension, and several networks handed out three-season renewals: FX will keep American Horror Story (its highest-rated show) on the air through at least Season 13 in 2023, NBC picked up medical drama New Amsterdam for three years, and TNT extended wrestling series AEW Dynamite through 2023. A pair of cable shows received two-season pickups: TBS’ American Dad and National Geographic’s Life Below Zero.

Spinoffs Are the New Revivals

Now that the revival craze has cooled (though ABC did order a pilot for a thirtysomething revival), the industry has shifted its attention to spinoffs, with two new offshoots that debuted in January appearing at the winter press tour: Fox’s 911: Lone Star and CBS’ FBI: Most Wanted. Before AMC paneled the fifth season of Breaking Bad spinoff Better Call Saul, it set the premiere date for its second Walking Dead offshoot, World Beyond, which will debut April 12 after The Walking Dead’s Season 10 finale.

Meanwhile, Fox ordered a Masked Singer spinoff called The Masked Dancer, produced by Ellen DeGeneres and based on The Ellen Show’s popular segment, and ABC is extending the Bachelor franchise with Listen to Your Heart, debuting April 13, which Karey Burke described as “The Bachelor meets A Star Is Born.” National Geographic renewed Life Below Zero spinoff Port Protection while greenlighting a second offshoot, Next Generation, and TNT’s deal with AEW Dynamite calls for a second AEW series.

New Network Partnerships

Some networks are opting to partner up as they try to navigate the peak TV landscape. Starting March 2, FX will be airing much of its content on the FX on Hulu branded hub, a move that FX Networks chairman John Landgraf said will strengthen both outlets: “Both our brands together … will make Hulu a stronger platform than either could alone.” FX will boost yet another Disney sibling, Freeform, by re-airing the Everything’s Gonna Be Okay pilot on Wednesday, Jan. 22, and National Geographic is teaming up with ABC News for its Born Wild: Earth Day Live event on April 22, which will be hosted by Good Morning America’s Robin Roberts and feature several ABC News correspondents.

Disney isn’t just pairing up its own networks. The company promoted Starz on its Disney+ and ESPN+ streaming services in exchange for programming rights, a “strategic” partnership that Starz president and CEO Jeffrey Hirsch would like to see more of going forward. “I think you’ll start to see more and more people start to bundle up, and that puts us in a really great spot,” he said.

The Finale Countdown

This was already going to be a big year for series finales, and the winter press tour featured panels from a trio of shows airing their final seasons this year: Modern Family (which will have its season finale April 8), Schitt’s Creek and Homeland. Networks also announced that two more critically acclaimed, long-running shows will also soon be taking their final bows: Showtime renewed Shameless for an 11th and final season, due to air later this year, and AMC said that Better Call Saul will air its sixth and final season in 2021 (Season 5 premieres Feb. 23).

Waving the White Flag on Scripted

While the new streaming services have sent the annual number of scripted shows skyrocketing, three other outlets said they would be getting out of the scripted space. Cinemax will no longer produce new scripted shows, Kevin Reilly said, becoming the latest cable network to retreat from scripted series.

A few days earlier, AT&T pulled the plug on Audience Network, which had been a press tour staple for several years (it will become an HBO Max preview channel; no decision has been made on the fate of scripted series like Mr. Mercedes). And two days before Facebook Watch presented its upcoming series Sacred Lies: The Singing Bones, it canceled two scripted series—including its most critically acclaimed show, Sorry for Your Loss—and said it would be scaling back on scripted fare and focusing on unscripted shows going forward.

@jasonlynch Jason Lynch is TV Editor at Adweek, overseeing trends, technology, personalities and programming across broadcast, cable and streaming video.
@kelseymsutton Kelsey Sutton is the streaming editor at Adweek, where she covers the business of streaming television.