How might the strike affect next Television upfront?



Few are willing to predict how long the work stoppage will last, but a strike by the Writers Guild in 1988 lasted for 22 weeks, delaying the start of the fall TV season that year and costing the industry an estimated 500 million.
For the ad buying community, the strike is only in the second week and most say things are still business as usual. Right now if they bought in the last upfront, they are still guaranteed and protected. Most are saying the industry won’t feel the real brunt of an ongoing strike until Q1.
The worst case scenario, of course, is the strike dragging out into the spring, when the industry prepares for upfront–9 billion in primetime deals are up for grabs.

The networks might have to present their schedules without pilots, and much of which would include reality programming. Some think there’s a good chance the upfronts would be canceled-at least in the fashion the industry is used to.

Brad Adgate SVP/Research, Horizon Media, tells TVBR there are two things to be thinking about: With less compelling viewing out there (i.e. repeats), people will migrate to other things besides watching network television. Some of them will not come back. "Every summer, the networks throw on repeats and not their top shows. People start to migrate to cable, and cable is putting on increasingly cutting edge programming. So you see an erosion of viewership every fall as it stands now. If I were to simplify it, I would say the networks lose 4 share points every summer and get two back every fall."

The other issue is the longer the strike goes out, the more habitual people will be to doing different things than watching network television. "How it impacts the upfront," he says, "really depends on how long it goes. Are the networks looking at scripts? Are people in program development? Are they pitching ideas right now to the networks? Are they getting greenlights for pilots? I tend to think that whole process is not happening right now, which is OK, but if that continues, to say 2008, then you have to look forward to the ’08-’09 season and wonder what we have."

Another issue is the networks really can’t evaluate the strength of their shows past the November Sweeps. "How strong are their midseason shows going to be because they might kick off against weakened competition," he cautions.

On the upfront dollars issue, specifically, Adgate notes if the strike goes all the way into May, when the upfront usually kicks off, or even to the end of March and knocks out Q1, and people are doing different things besides watching television, "the dollars are going to follow the eyeballs. If they resolve the strike at the last minute, the upfront will be rushed, whatever they do. It will be around the clock and they will be working feverishly to get some product out there, because there is so much at risk. But that is a long way off."

TVBR/RBR observation: The dollars could go into radio, gaming, mobile video, online video, cable, syndication, newspaper-you name it. Television has too many competitors these days to be comfortable with a prolonged strike. The producers and writers both stand to suffer more than they imagined. This is not 1988.