Saturday, February 9, 2008

Tentative Deal with Writers Reached

It appears that a deal has been struck and will be voted on by the WGA this evening. If approved, the strike will be over and TV can start production again. Most likely, the evening talk shows, The Tonight Show, Late Night, Jimmy Kimmel, The Daily Show and The Colbert Report will start fresh shows on Monday. For scripted series, the delay to fresh shows are still months away. But the landscape for TV has been forever changed.

The Networks will become much more efficient in their spending on shows. Commitments will be made with tighter budgets attached. Should a show make it to pilot form, it will move quickly to series. If a show doesn't perform on network, watch it pop up on cable and vice versa. Don't be surprised to see Psych, Monk, or even Mad Men repurposed on network. A series will complete its 13 episode minimum regardless of its initial rating cause the expectation is that it will be repurposed across cable and the web, to assure it finds a profit. And vertically alligned businesses, like NBC with their hands in each of these distribution points will do especially well. They can effectively spread the risk and increase the return from each of these productions.

At the same time, reality shows are starting to show their age. Survivor's latest adventure recently scored its lowest ratings. Deal or No Deal has gotten so desperate, half the briefcases have to contain $1 million dollars just to keep the viewer's interest. And even American Idol has looked beatable. As fresh content comes back to TV, the ratings for these reality shows will suffer further. The writers strike has gotten them to wear out their welcome.

To me shows like Saturday Night Live will prove even more lucrative to the new model. It generates both short form and long form content for the web (for example all the digital shorts) , it provides a testing ground for actors and writers (Conan O'Brien was a writer on SNL, Tina Fey a writer and performer who was able to create 30 Rock for NBC, the show has been re cut to an hour and syndicated to E!, and it creates commercial parodies, best of's and political specials that are repurposed into prime time specials. It created a DVD of its first 5 years so most likely more will come. Prior to the strike, the guest host was Brian Williams, NBC News anchor who post appearance saw the ratings for NBC News rise. Its been an effective medium to promote other shows as well. And during the strike, various shows and specials filled the prime time air. In short SNL is the golden goose to NBC. It creates original content that can be merchandized and monetized across multiple distribution points. Try doing that with Deal or No Deal!