NewMediaMetrics’ Gary Reisman Wants to Fix Pilot Season

Can gauge a script's success or failure

Los Angeles is in the very thick of pilot season, the annual ritual where extravagance lays down with myopia and the networks wake up $500 million the worse for wear. Thus far in the process, broadcasters have placed their bets on 98 scripted projects for the 2013-14 campaign, of which roughly 70 percent will never see the light of day. Of those that actually land on the prime-time schedules, a handful will be picked up for a second season.

While it’s all in accordance with classical precedent, this is a loony way to go about one’s business. But Gary Reisman believes he’s developed an alternative to what he characterizes as TV’s “throw shit on the wall and see what sticks” approach.

The co-founder and principal in NewMediaMetrics, Reisman has refined a predictive analytics model designed to assess the likelihood of a new project’s success or failure well in advance of the casting process. The key to NMM’s “LEAP” valuation system—it’s the acronym for Leveraging Emotional Attachments for Profit—is in gauging consumer sentiments about a script before the networks invest in the property.

“When a company develops a consumer product, they research and test-market it for a year before it hits the shelves,” Reisman said. “There’s no reason why the content industry shouldn’t apply the same rigor to their own investments.”

According to NMM’s 3,000-person sample, two shows that promised to resonate the most with viewers were NBC’s Revolution and the CW’s Beauty & the Beast. On hiatus until March 25, Revolution is certain to be renewed, boasting an average draw of 8.38 million viewers and a 3.1 rating in the 18-49 demo. B&B’s fate is less assured. While it received the highest accolades from NMM’s young female sample, it is currently the CW’s sixth-biggest draw among its target demo. All told, NMM’s predictions claim a 67 percent success rate—a damn sight better than broadcast’s 15 percent.

A number of data crunchers (Networked Insights, General Sentiment, Bluefin) turn to social media stats to get a read on a series’ viability. For example, in its report on the CW midseason drama The Carrie Diaries, NI noted that the 309,000 Twitter posts about the show were overwhelmingly positive. And while early deliveries have been tepid, as the CW’s third-biggest draw in its target demo, The Carrie Diaries has a real shot at renewal.

Tracking Twitter sentiment is all well and good, but it’s not something onto which the networks can hang their investment strategies.

“Social media can be a very powerful way to contextualize a show that’s already bought and paid for,” Reisman said. “But it’s worthless as a tool to evaluate which concepts actually have a shot before they’re developed.”