Although the COVID-19 pandemic has altered the pitching season for networks and streaming services, there is more at work which may change the dynamics about the type of series that may be picked up. For those producing for the first time or working outside the Hollywood system, this may be your moment.
How COVID-19 Affected Upfronts
The annual network Upfronts was virtual this year because of the pandemic. This had a major effect on many advertisers who were only interested in making short term ad purchases. This meant instead of purchasing a show or series for a full season, it was only a quarterly purchase.
The effect on producers and writers in television was that the possibility for lower costs, shorter series became more available. Since networks fuel the industry with their ad purchases, buying on a quarterly basis as opposed to funding a full season means that more experimental work can get through. This means more risk-taking which opens the field to more producers and writers of creative programs.
In addition to networks going with short-term series, they benefit from this situation financially. This is because advertisement prices for Upfronts are 40%+ less compared to purchasing an ad during the show run. The result is that networks are more than happy to accept fewer buys Upfront and more for their traditional advertising during the run of their shows.
Effects on Network Programming
This effect has also caused the cancellation of some long-running series as they become more difficult to finance Upfront. There has even been a trend of renewing and then cancelling some series because of the money situation. Because lower-budgeted series, especially those with smaller orders are normally produced quickly, they have benefitted as a result of this situation.
The most obvious type of programming that has benefitted are reality shows. Because they have a considerably lower budget compared to traditional dramas and sit-coms, they are cheaper and easier to produce.
In addition, creators of new series have a leg-up in getting their shows into the schedule. This means a greater chance at producing a big hit. This has opened the door to more creative types of programs, although they will be limited in terms of budgeting.
Effects on Streaming Services
Since streaming services like Netflix do not rely on advertisers, the current environment is different compared to networks. While it is true that Hulu, Peacock, Amazon Studios, and even Disney+ have some connection to advertising revenue, all the streaming services will most likely mirror the behavior of their network counterparts.
This means for producers and writers looking to break into network or streaming services, the time could not be better. Plus, when the pandemic passes, it is likely that some networks or streaming services may revert to larger Upfront buys for certain programming. This means that when a series is established and successful, it may be around for a long time.
Going to an entertainment law firm that pitches series to networks and streaming services is a good first step. Be sure to have your lawyers available for any contracts, services, or advice needed to ensure everything is above board when you make your pitch.