Masked Scheduler: Upfronts may be outdated, but broadcast networks are evolving

I was going to spend some time doing a postmortem on upfront week, but over the weekend a former broadcast executive who I worked with for a while at NBC posted this on his Facebook page:

“It is upfronts week in New York, so I’ll be blunt. Who cares? Now that broadcast networks (in particular) seem to be openly admitting that their goal is not C3 or C7, or whatever (insert demo/span of time here) … can we all agree that linear TV is just the ‘front porch’ for popularizing series to build value for their IPTV sales? Sure hope so. The organizing theory behind everyone’s linear schedule is plain — can I get a good/better second window price (commercials excised) from Netflix, Amazon Prime or Hulu? Anyone want to argue this point — I’m ready to reply.”

It started a long chain among several current and former people in the industry. Another former executive who once headed a broadcast network chimed in:

“Right, so the $9.7B spent on broadcast and cable upfront last year, with a certain increase this year, is just chump change? Viewing behavior is sure changing, but the value of the linear real estate has hardly gone away.”

I entered the fray with this:

“Isn’t it simpler to say the content ecosystem and broadcast’s place in it continues to evolve? Why the need to belittle it? And I agree the dog and pony show of upfronts needs to evolve with all this.”

The instigator of all this agreed with my assessment, and I think that up sums up where we are as we kick off the sales portion of the upfront.

As a veteran of the business, I chuckle at those on the outside looking in who think those at the broadcast networks have had their heads buried in the sand while the business continues to evolve. I started in broadcast television in 1980, when a 30 household share was considered the Mendoza line for getting renewed. A lot has changed — a lot — but the broadcast networks continue to exist, and I don’t see that changing. If broadcasters held on to their beliefs and didn’t change with the times, they would have vanished long ago.

The networks are part of larger entities. They own more of their content. They have more platforms on which to monetize their programs. They receive revenue in ways unheard of even 20 years ago (retrans). They monetize the linear part of the business over days beyond the initial telecast, and they still amass large audience for live sports and other event programming. This doesn’t look like a group of people who are avoiding the realities of the business. They understand their place in the content ecosystem and operate accordingly.

One can criticize the programs — that’s a constant — but they operate with restraints that other platforms can ignore and in spite of those restraints, aggregate audiences that exceed the vast majority of content.

I thought all the networks did what they needed to do last week. I think FOX still needs to articulate a clearer vision of where it is going assuming the Disney deal moves forward, but they presented a schedule and came out of last season with some shows to build on and the NFL on Thursdays. The other networks all seem to know who they are and communicated that effectively to the advertisers. They will be rewarded for it.

As I have said before, your schedule is your home page. The porch isn’t crumbling, as many said on the aforementioned Facebook thread. It’s evolving, and broadcast television will live to present more upfronts.

I’ll start looking at the new stuff in anticipation for the MASKYS down the road.

Comments go to or @maskedscheduler on Twitter.