Don’t get me wrong…algorithm-based decisions, such as those made famous by Netflix, are, in general, going to give you a good level of success. What has worked in the past and appreciation for those shows point to a sound launch pad for your next drama acquisition and we should never dismiss this. What audiences like – or don’t like – have always been used by US creators to gauge their next potential success… but their data usually comes prior to a completed pilot through dial testing and insight. Every broadcaster I know uses research and insight to understand what has worked in the past for their brand and viewers but this sometimes can only take you so far in delivering what you need for your audiences and brand.
Thinking outside the box; that jumps into the unknown that is so much a part of the LA Screenings or mid-season delivery.
Understanding trends in dramatic content and being able to anticipate what audiences want to watch has been part of the creative landscape from the beginnings of television. That level of invention and creative excellence has guided TV over the past sixty five years plus to this, its latest Golden Age! My own existence in television came from watching Columbo as a child; part of a Mystery Wheel of TV detectives including McCloud/Banacek/McMillan and Wife – an amazing and inventive decision at the time. Trends however only give you part of the answer. Creative minds in either an Aaron Spelling, Chris Carter and Ryan Murphy –understood- and understand trends but there is more. There is a voice. There is a story that needs to be told with a passion that leads trends and becomes the zeitgeist.
As a buyer, you have to measure all these factors and see what your schedule and audience require. Not every schedule is built for inventive shows like Legion (top photo): yet that sits in the heart of our schedule at Fox. Our DNA is all about edgy content, knowing that this attracts subscribers looking for the ‘different’, but on the other hand our business also needs impacts and ‘bums on seats’ with shows like NCIS, one of TV’s longest-running shows, and universally loved by audiences around the world. But risk is what the channel is all about. If we weren’t taking those risks – fully supported by all in the channel – we would be letting our viewers, the platform and ourselves down. Other channels aren’t built that way. ITV, for example, needs a series like Lethal Weapon. You know what you are getting… it does what it says on the tin.. broad and mainstream and well produced.
When it comes to advertiser funded programmes, viewers can see straight through any cynical interference on screen or messaging. In my experience, the dramatic and advertiser content can only work in harmony otherwise viewers can see through this immediately… exactly like a commissioning decision made for the wrong reasons. Audiences notice everything!
But as everyone struggles to ensure they make or buy the next big hit, we see more shows in the US being remade/retooled to sell firstly to the OTT services and therefore enable audiences to instantly relate to the content while ensure marketing spend can be limited. There is nothing wrong with a straight down the line detective show if it’s full of passion and creativity. Where the problems lay is if the original decision to commission comes more from a business imperative more than a creative one. We must always remember that the ability to fail is creativity’s friend.
This is the latest in a series of posts from MIPCOM 2017’s MIPBlog Ambassadors, a group of industry experts coordinated by consultant Debbie Macdonald, who’ll be sharing their insight here in the run-up to MIPCOM this October. Stay tuned for more!
Top photo © FX Networks/Legion Facebook page