Friday, May 16, 2008

FOX THINKS OUTSIDE THE BOX

WELL -- things just got way more interesting for all those Canadian TV execs who've traveled to LA to purchase their Fall simulcasts.

Not only are they having to make their picks from scripts and outlines instead of finished pilots with already approved marketing plans; but in a couple of cases, they'll need to figure out how to fit them into the alloted timeslots -- as well as how to pay for them.

The FOX network has announced it will air two of its new drama series, J.J. Abrams’ “Fringe” and Joss Whedon’s “Dollhouse,” with reduced commercial breaks. Both series will only make room for five minutes of commercials per hour, about half the normal dosage.

“It’s a simple concept and potentially revolutionary,” Fox Entertainment Chairman Peter Liguori said. “We’re going to have less commercials, less promotional time, and less reason for viewers to use the remote. We’re going to redefine the viewing experience.”

I'll say. And it's going to be particularly interesting to see how the Canadian networks handle this shift. You see, they've been crying poor to the CRTC for so long that last summer the Commission granted them the right to program ADDITIONAL commercial time.


Yes, in one of its particularly anti-consumer moves, the Regulator (who's job it's supposed to be to protect the rights of the viewing audience) allowed Canadian nets the right to insert 12 to 14 minutes of commercials per hour.

And the networks apparently need every second of that time, because they were back in Gatineau last month whining that they were still losing money and needed to start charging for formerly free to air services to stay afloat.

When I was producing "Eerie, Indiana" for FOX KIDS and GLOBAL, the difference in commercial times between the two networks was only a minute, so we had to deliver two different cuts, the FOX version being one minute longer.

In TV terms, a minute is a long time and we had to make sure our minute didn't include any plot points or character beats because they wouldn't be seen by the Canadian audience. But whatever tap-dancing we did also couldn't bog down the story telling.

From a budgetary point of view, we also had to place the additional minute at the top or tail of an act break so we didn't have to endure a costly remix on a significant amount of the show.

Because "Eerie" was a comedy with a couple of goofy kids, it was relatively simple to add a few jokes or a piece of physical humor that wouldn't detract from the viewing experience of any Canadians who'd never see those segments.

But that won't be an option when the difference in program content is 7 to 9 minutes or 15-20% of the episode.

The two series will have to either be edited to fit the Canadian format or allowed to overlap into the next time slot.

The former approach would likely alienate an audience who will know they can purchase the full show the next day on iTunes or stream the unexpurgated version from another source.

The alternative is probably even more terrifying to a Canadian network suit -- because overlapping the hour will create a conflict with whatever American series they've scheduled to simulcast following "Fringe" or "Dollhouse".

Remember, these guys aren't usually buying full nights from one network. They're mixing and matching from all of the Big 4 (and elsewhere).

Therefore that overlap could allow viewers a few minutes to sample the American feed from its original source before its usurped by the simulcasting Canadian channel -- and most remotes go searching if the first five minutes of a show haven't grabbed the viewer.

To additionally compound the problem for Canadian broadcasters, FOX is placing a premium on the ads for "Fringe" and "Dollhouse" feeling they are two of their "must see" shows of the season -- and of course to pay for the additional content of the programs and the fewer commercial slots.

That'll likely mean a certain amount of branding, like Ford has done with the season openers of "24".

I'm not sure those same sponsors (or a Canadian equivalent) will be willing to lay out larger ad fees to reach the much smaller Canadian audience.

Boy oh boy -- wouldn't it just be easier to make Canadian shows instead?

9 comments:

Ryan said...

One thing I'm curious about. If a Canadian network broadcasts a show edited for 12 minutes of commercials at the same time as an american broadcast of the same show cut for 10 minutes of commercials, do they still get simsub?

Anonymous said...

Maybe I'm missing something, but if the Canadian broadcasters want these two shows that bad, can't they just show fewer ads themselves? And charge more for those ads too?

That way, they don't have to edit the episode or overlap it at all.

You're working on the assumption that they'll be unwilling to do that I guess?

jimhenshaw said...

As I said at the end of the Post, "Anonymous" (and why does anybody have to hide their identity on a topic as mundane as this?) I don't think Canadian advertisers will be willing to brand these shows and/or pay extra for the ad time. To keep costs in line, these commercials would need to cost twice as much and that's a significant premium in this market.

James Goneaux said...

My solution is very simple: I'll have to hit the "fast forward" button on my PVR four more times per hour. Doesn't seem like a problem (being sarcastic here, of course. Knowing the idiots running Canadian TV, they'll be editing this stuff with a chainsaw to get a few more "Bad Boy" ads in.)

I guess they'd know, but I've always wondered why commercial executives still labour under the delusion that people actually watch most commercials. Some are well done, most are just irritating, and even the best ones get so after awhile.

Fox seems to know this. Chances are Global, City and CTV won't.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the response Jim. And just for the record, it's not that I'm trying to hide my identity, it's that I don't have a blogger account (and no interest in creating one).

Keith Norris

Brandon Laraby said...

Wow, you did Eerie, Indiana?

Awesome!

My brother and I used to love that show. Not to say that I was some lil' kid or anything, but I was in that whole 'are you afraid of the Dark' phase and Eerie, Indiana was a lot of fun.

Huh, cool beans!

"Boy oh boy -- wouldn't it just be easier to make Canadian shows instead?"

Yes, yes it would - but then they'd actually have to support the industry they're trying to dismantle and we all know that only exists in some other sort of bizarro-world where it rains Gobstoppers and Neilson ratings.

DMc said...

And I hate to contradict James there, especially with the awesome sneer to his prose :) but since this is the first year Nielsen in the USA started actually metering commercials, some of the data they found was that not only do people watch commercials, but...

...a significant number of people who PVR shows watch at least some if not all of the spots.

...people who fast forward through spots on PVR (as opposed to the TIVO complete skip method) still get a significant amount of the commercial message.

...people watching so called "upscale" shows, ie: The Office, 30 Rock, are MORE likely to watch commercials than people watching lowest common denominator reality.

Sounds weird, I know, but that's what they found. You gotta figure they'd have found something, or the entire ad-buying infrastructure would have imploded already...

James Goneaux said...

Well DMC, I was pretty sure somebody was looking into it. But life experience has taught me that if your job is to find something, you tend to, well, find something. Advertising is a multi-billion dollar bizness run for the most part by immoral people, taking money from the gullible, to spend it on the stupid.

I use Bell Express Vu. When I PVR something, I hit the fast forward button at the first sign of a commercial, which skips ahead 30 seconds (I've learned to hit the "skip back 10 second" button first).

Hence, no commercial viewed at all. Most of the time I'm watching shows with warnings, so that's all I see when I stop hitting buttons anyway. So maybe the investigators would consider this watching "some" of a commercial.

Seriously, if a show is good enough, its worth it to watch it on DVD. In a weekend with some coffee into you, a full season is doable.

CAROLINE said...

Ryan, to answer your question, yes. They get simsub on the show, not the commercials.

I have a PVR and don't ask me why, but I do sometimes find myself watching the commercials. This is a phenomenon I can't explain. The other one is why I sit through a tv airing of a movie, commercials and all, when I own it on DVD.