With streaming dominating the industry, IndieWire is breaking down what really matters in the ongoing new cycle to provide a clear picture of what companies are winning the streaming wars — and how they’re pulling ahead. By looking at trends and curating developments, the Streaming Wars Report will offer a clear picture of what’s happening overall and day-to-day in streaming. This column will cover the major players, from Netflix to Disney+ to HBO Max, and be sure to check out our Indie Edition for thorough coverage of the boutique services.
Broadcast is in trouble — and not the trouble we’ve been talking about for years. With production shut down across the industry and no concrete plan to restart live sports, this year’s fall TV slate looks shakier than when ABC tried to sell audiences a 30-minute Geico ad. Pilot season is practically nonexistent. Returning shows are unable to shoot new episodes, and very few have anything already in the can. Series orders are down across the board, and advertising, which isn’t as big of a draw without new programming, could see even more cuts.
So, in case you couldn’t tell from CBS’ current Sunday night lineup of old movies, broadcast needs content — and fast. News, reality, and event programming could make up some of the difference, and as Vulture’s Joe Adalian points out in his invaluable Buffering newsletter (you are subscribing, right?), many networks are leaning away from expensive scripted series in the long term. But a stop-gap solution for this fall could come via a longtime favorite strategy of network TV: corporate synergy.
ABC, NBC, CBS, and The CW are all owned by a parent company with high-profile streaming services, and, as we saw last week, ViacomCBS isn’t afraid to move its streaming originals over to broadcast. “Tell Me a Story” will air this fall on The CW after premiering on CBS All Access, and “Swamp Thing,” originally a DC Universe series, will hit broadcast the same night. Both shows were canceled by their respective streaming outlets before making the move, but they’re still providing “new” content on Tuesday nights for The CW. As for Fox, the lone network now without a sister streaming service, licensed Sony TV’s cop procedural, “L.A.’s Finest,” which originally aired on Charter Spectrum. Now, the first season of the “Bad Boys” spinoff will make its broadcast debut Monday nights on Fox.
With ABC, NBC, and CBS schedules still to be announced, are more acquisitions in the offing? Without a law degree or access to licensing agreements, it’s hard to know for sure, but one gets the sense that if any of the head honchos running Disney, Comcast, or ViacomCBS want to air one of their streaming shows on their broadcast network, it would probably happen. What has to be weighed is the value of exclusivity: Netflix and Amazon Prime have no sister channel in need of assistance, so don’t expect to see “Dead to Me” or “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” anywhere else — their value to their streaming services is that they only exist in one place.
But for Disney+, Hulu, CBS All Access, Showtime, and even Peacock, the value select programs bring to broadcast could outweigh the long-term value their exclusivity offers the streaming service. In some cases, airing old streaming seasons on a sister network could double as an advertisement for upcoming seasons only available to watch via SVOD. Or, some cancelled shows could earn a second life if they succeed on broadcast. (Side note: As seen with The CW’s other acquisitions, foreign series are also on the market, and any number of them could help fill out broadcast schedules, too.) With all that in mind, let’s take a look at what shows might cross from the internet to airwaves this fall.
Courtesy of Disney / Lucasfilm
Parent Company: The Walt Disney Company
Streaming Affiliates: Disney+, Hulu
Potential Acquisitions: “The Mandalorian,” “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series”
As some have been saying for months, the most obvious original series to boost ABC’s fall schedule is “The Mandalorian.” Produced by the Disney-owned Lucasfilm and streaming via Disney-owned Disney+, the well-received “Star Wars” series is a banner ad for the mega-popular Disney empire — so much so that it helped launch the new service last year. Moreover, episodes are family-friendly, which fits the established ABC brand, and each entry clocks in between 33-49 minutes, which would make it easy to build in advertisements for an hour-long timeslot. One more bonus: “The Mandalorian” has a second season already in post-production, so giving Season 1 a broadcast premiere would double as an advertisement for Season 2, and you know Disney loves to turn programming into advertisements!
That being said, “The Mandalorian” is the most high-profile Disney+ original out there, and — with production delays slowing down the new Marvel series — it will be for some time. If releasing it on ABC would confuse too many viewers about how the new streaming service operates, or otherwise dilute the service’s value, then executives may look elsewhere. “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series” might be a simpler sell, seeing how it has old ties to Disney TV (with the original airing on Disney Channel and the new series being produced through Disney), while Disney’s docuseries slate could also be put to use on ABC, considering shows like “Prop Culture” and “Disney Gallery: The Mandalorian” also serve as gateways to other Disney properties. Synergy! Ain’t it great?
Parent Company: ViacomCBS
Streaming Affiliates: CBS All Access, Showtime
Potential Acquisitions: “The Good Fight,” “Star Trek: Picard”
Beyond “Swamp Thing” and “Tell Me a Story,” CBS has been consistently aggressive in moving programs between properties. During the 2008 WGA strike, reruns of Showtime’s “Dexter” were edited in order to fill holes in the CBS slate. More recently, Paramount Network’s “68 Whiskey” (which is part of the ViacomCBS family) was added to CBS All Access on Friday, while “The Good Fight” was one of the first streaming series to make the leap to broadcast when its premiere debuted on CBS in 2017. (Plus, the entire first season again hit broadcast in 2019.) One would think, with two-and-a-half more seasons at its disposal (and plenty of well-deserved Emmys to win), that “The Good Fight” would be a logical addition to the fall CBS lineup.
But ViacomCBS is heavily invested in the “Star Trek” franchise, launching three new series already and with two more in development. “Star Trek: Discovery” aired its premiere on CBS in 2017 and could use the extra eyeballs to help boost future seasons, while “Star Trek: Picard” would be a big draw for the older demographic CBS typically attracts. Still, as the flagship All Access programs, these decisions would face the same drawbacks as “The Mandalorian”: Is it worth risking the All Access brand to boost linear CBS?
Parent Company: Comcast
Streaming Affiliates: Peacock
Potential Acquisitions: “Mad About You,” “Brave New World”
With Peacock in the process of launching — certain Comcast Xfinity customers can access the preview now, while everyone else has to wait for national debut on July 15 — NBC doesn’t have a bevy of original streaming options to pick over. But it still has options. For one, it could follow in Fox’s footsteps and license little-seen, broadcast-friendly shows. “Mad About You” certainly fits the bell, given the revival first aired on Charter Spectrum and the original series was an NBC hit for seven seasons. Also, after selling “L.A.’s Finest” to Fox, Sony Pictures Television Studios president Jeff Frost told Variety, “There are all kinds of conversations ongoing in connection with [‘Mad About You’].” So someone is curious about acquiring the series now, even if they weren’t before.
Whether or not NBC is in those talks remains unknown, and the idea of Sony licensing a show to the second largest American cable operator (Charter) and then licensing the same show to the largest American cable operator (Comcast), well, it seems a bit much. If Comcast wants to keep things in-house, perhaps there’s a deal to be done with Peacock’s series. The streaming service announced, in rather shocking news to this critic, that “Brave New World” would be available for the July launch. Starring “Solo’s” Alden Ehrenreich, the Aldous Huxley adaptation may be too dark for broadcast TV — the synopsis uses words like “harrowing” and “violent” — but we won’t know for a few months. Similarly, Comcast may not know what’s best for Peacock until they see how it performs in wide release, but there will be a good three months between the official start of fall and “Brave New World’s” release. Maybe a preview on NBC could drive subscribers to Peacock? Or maybe NBC would do better welcoming back David Schwimmer via his Peacock original series, “Intelligence.” We’ll have to wait to find out, even if everyone is looking for answers already.
Top 5 Power Rankings (May 17, 2020)
4. Amazon Prime
5. HBO/HBO Max