Aging Shows, Management Shakeup Give ABC Cause for Concern

TMC1982

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http://adage.com/mediaworks/article?article_id=145973

In 2004, after suffering a drop in upfront ad sales thanks to an overdependence on game show "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire," ABC greenlit "Lost" and "Desperate Housewives," which fueled its resurgence. This fall, ABC's hoping for a similar jolt. The network has grown reliant on a group of aging stalwarts and that has ad buyers concerned.

How bad has it gotten? Even ratings-challenged NBC, no longer so far behind ABC in terms of performance, has been taking potshots. For the 2009-2010 prime-time broadcast season, ABC saw its average viewership come in third, behind CBS and Fox, according to Nielsen. More crucial, perhaps, is its viewership in the demographic coveted by advertisers -- people between the ages of 18 and 49. ABC nabbed an average of 2.692 million viewers, Nielsen said, while NBC, boosted by its broadcasts of the Winter Olympics, captured an average of 2.686 million viewers between 18 and 49 -- not too far apart.

Couple that with ABC's recent spate of executive turnover -- ABC news chief David Westin has indicated he will leave by the end of 2010, and the network has parted ways with both Stephen McPherson, the man who devised its new fall schedule, and Michael Benson, one of the executives who was supposed to market its new shows to the masses -- and it will be a year of rebuilding.


"Their tentpole shows are indeed aging," said Don Seaman, VP-director of communications analysis at Havas media-buying firm MPG. He suggests the "younger" shows that have potential will need strong sampling to gain a foothold among younger viewers. "Otherwise you might be looking at a longer reclamation project for the Alphabet network," he said.

Producing better-watched programming is crucial to ABC's success. ABC has seen its upfront sales decline in recent years, according to recent estimates from Fitch Ratings. The Disney net once marched in lockstep with the arguably more stable CBS, securing about $2.5 billion in ad commitments for the 2008-2009 TV season. This year, ABC was only able to notch around $2.2 billion, according to Fitch, after falling to $2.1 billion in 2009. Meantime, lesser-ranked NBC and better-rated Fox increased their smaller totals year over year.

This comes after ABC, like all the other broadcast networks, saw overall ad revenue drop in recession-plagued 2009 by 2.1%, to about $5.06 billion from $5.17 billion, according to Kantar Media. (ABC's decline was less than that experienced by any other broadcast rival that year.)
One thing that really troubles me about ABC is that they (and Disney in general) seem to cable and satellite multiple system operators (such as ESPN, Disney Channel and ABC Family) as "affiliates". So in the process, they have the current head of ESPN also head ABC Sports (because Disney would now a days prefer to have more high profile sports events on ESPN, they've managed to alienate ABC's affiliates and not promote new programming more thoroughly), the current head of ABC Family head their entertainment division, and fill their Saturday morning schedule with reruns of Disney Channel sitcoms. Furthermore, Anne Sweeney, who's the current President of Disney-ABC Television Group directly comes from a cable background. As for David Westin, who recently announced his resignation as head of ABC News, well here's a great article regarding how completely mismanaged his 13 year tenure there has been:
How David Westin Ruined ABC News by Emily Miller
 

Peter Paltridge

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ABC is afraid of NBC? That's like an elephant afraid of a mouse. ABC is still creating hit shows and some of its mainstays aren't dinosaurs just yet -- Dancing with the Stars is at its peak and their comedy lineup is the highest-rated it's been in years. NBC gets #4 ratings no matter what they air.

From the article, they're basing this on the ratings for the Olympics. Uh, NBC won't be airing that this season....
 

TMC1982

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ABC is afraid of NBC? That's like an elephant afraid of a mouse. ABC is still creating hit shows and some of its mainstays aren't dinosaurs just yet -- Dancing with the Stars is at its peak and their comedy lineup is the highest-rated it's been in years. NBC gets #4 ratings no matter what they air.

From the article, they're basing this on the ratings for the Olympics. Uh, NBC won't be airing that this season....

While ABC is still ahead of NBC (frankly, having Jeff Zucker in charge so long would've put them in fourth place any other way), but they aren't quite out of the woods just yet so to speak:
http://www.nypost.com/p/news/busine...M;jsessionid=B3CC7C663CF2E4960FA40DE13576C3BB

For all the talk about the failures of NBC's Ben Silverman, the programming executive under the most pressure to produce a breakout hit heading into next month's upfronts could very well be ABC Entertainment Group President Stephen McPherson.

While Silverman presides over a network few expect much from these days, McPherson's ABC, which in 2006 trailed only CBS in total viewers, has squandered that momentum, losing more viewers than any other network over that three-year period, according to ABC.

And with its aging anchor shows -- "Grey's Anatomy," "Lost," "Desperate Housewives" and "Dancing with the Stars" -- declining in the ratings
, Disney insiders, talent agents, producers, media buyers and rival programmers said McPherson is "feeling the heat" to find a new hit.

"ABC has struggled, particularly with scripted series and on particular nights like Friday or Saturday," said John Rash, director of media analysis at Campbell Mithun.

Added a Hollywood agent who asked to remain anonymous because his clients have projects at ABC, "This is a make-or-break development season for McPherson. He needs something."

A rep for McPherson declined to comment.

To be sure, McPherson's job isn't in jeopardy -- he signed a new contract last year and is a favored executive and frequent bike-riding companion of Disney CEO Bob Iger -- but his reputation as a talented script doctor and series shaper is indeed on the line.

Sources credit McPherson for the success of "Brothers & Sisters" and reviving "Grey's" and "The Bachelor." But recently McPherson has had more misses than hits, and once-popular shows like "Ugly Betty" have suffered as a result of timeslot changes.

In search of a hit, sources said McPherson ordered more pilots than any other network during this year's development season because "he know he has to hit one out of the ballpark."
An ABC insider disputed that, saying simply that McPherson believes in research and development.

Sources said McPherson does have some promising shows on the slate, including "Cougartown" with Courtney Cox, "The Bridget Show" with Lauren Graham and an untitled vehicle for "Will & Grace"star Eric McCormack. The new comedy "Surviving Suburbia" starring Bob Saget also debuted to promising numbers last week.

Part of the reason McPherson's track record is coming under scrutiny is because he won a power struggle in January against Mark Pedowitz that put the ABC network and ABC studio under his charge. With Pedowitz gone, it's McPherson's show, and he has no one to blame but himself if things go wrong.

Problem is, McPherson isn't that good at handling pressure, sources said. "He's an explosive type, and his emotions get the better of him," said the Disney insider.

This article is from April 2009 by the way.
Almost all the programs that could be considered hits on ABC today (i.e. Desperate Housewives, Grey's Anatomy, etc.) were developed by Susan Lyne and Lloyd Braun before they were forced out.
 

Wounded_Dragon

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I don't know why the article mentions Friday and Saturday nights. Those nights have been bad across the board for nearly every channel for years and years. "Good" on those nights is more of a "not that bad."
 

The Penguin

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ABC is afraid of NBC? That's like an elephant afraid of a mouse. ABC is still creating hit shows and some of its mainstays aren't dinosaurs just yet -- Dancing with the Stars is at its peak and their comedy lineup is the highest-rated it's been in years. NBC gets #4 ratings no matter what they air.
But ABC didn't create too many new hits this past year out of their slate. The new comedies had more hits than misses, but in addition to Lost and Ugly Betty, ABC cancelled nine scripted shows last year. A year after The Jay Leno Show, no is rebuilding more than NBC, but ABC isn't really all that far behind in terms of work that needs to be done.
 

TMC1982

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I don't know why the article mentions Friday and Saturday nights. Those nights have been bad across the board for nearly every channel for years and years. "Good" on those nights is more of a "not that bad."

Then again, ABC used to have something called TGIF. :sweat:
 

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