Why Did ABC Release The ZERO HOUR Pilot Online 2 Weeks Early?

No seriously, why? I’m trying to figure out how this benefits them at all. Up until a few years ago, no network would have dreamed of releasing a pilot before the premiere date. Getting people to show up on premiere night was the most important thing in the world. It was weeks 2 and 3 you had to worry about. You spend months creating a show, scheduling it, promoting it endlessly and you want as many eyeballs there on premiere night as possible. I remember NBC being an early adopter of this idea by releasing the pilots of Studio 60 and Heroes (the latter on YouTube, if you can believe) in the summer of 2006 months before each premiered. It was a way to generate early buzz for a network that was in dire need of hits and certainly in the case of Heroes it worked. I believe both were offline closer to the premiere date. Still this wasn’t so much a regular occurence. Most of the other nets especially CBS (who was so strong they didn’t need to leak a pilot early,) and ABC still put a lot of stock in getting people to premiere night.  Many shows would fall up apart in week 2 but could still be counted on to get people to sample at least week 1. Why would anyone want to diminish that?

In the last couple of years it has become more widespread, with even ABC joining the fray, but they were still being selective. They released the Once Upon A Time pilot only on IMDB just a few days early. It certainly wasn’t everywhere. But something changed early last season when New Girl was released on all outlets and even FOX expected it to hurt the premiere somewhat. They were calculating that while they might have a smaller overall premiere number, they’ll have reached many younger eyeballs that might not have even showed up on night 1 and help them generate word of mouth. The result was a mammoth premiere with 10 million viewers and a 4.8. It was a monster hit and it even surprised FOX themselves. I think that was the turning point and after that every net but CBS seemed to regularly do this.

Early this season, ABC opted not to release the 666 Park Ave pilot early (even though that might have been the most accessible one) and released Nashville. The one that was most curious to me was Last Resort. After all this was a show premiering in a very tough timeslot. Why give people the opportunity not to watch or even DVR, since people already have other options Thu at 8? I believe their thinking was that since its premiering in such a tough slot, let’s get people talking early and help generate word of mouth. The premiere did okay at 9 million and a 2.1 an d no one can really measure what impact, if any, leaking the pilot early haD. It’s a moot point anyway as the show dropped enough to the point where ABC cancelled it after 13 eps.

I have already expressed my surprise at ABC scheduling another new complicated mythology show Thu at 8, now that TBBT is even stronger and American Idol is a big hit as opposed to (X Factor). But it’s still counterprogamming and ABC is clearly hoping they can attract some drama/action adventure fans in an hour where there isn’t one. Whatever I think of their scheduling strategy, it’s clearly gonna be hard to attract many viewers in a slot with TVs #1 and #2 show. ABC is clearly hoping just for some traction. So again, why give people an incentive not show up for episode 1?

I’m also starting to think that the New Girl strategy is more of an anomaly.  None of the leaked pilots since then have really blown up. Yes, Revolution was leaked early and premiered huge, but lets not forget it aired after The Voice and premiered a week early against reruns on other nets.  FOX, previously the big purveyor of this tactic, opted to not release The Following online and it premiered with a 3.2 and built substantially on its lead in. People showed up. Fox spent months getting people ready for premiere night and didn’t give them any opportunities to watch it anywhere else. You know what recent pilot was released 3 weeks early – Do No Harm.  It couldn’t even a muster a 1.0 for its premiere.  It’s quite likely that The Following would have premiered well even if it was out early and Do No Harm probably would still not have worked, but there’s still a lot to be said for getting people to show up or at the very least, DVR your show and there aren’t enough examples to show where its much of an advantage to leak a pilot early.

Zero Hour has the deck stacked against them even more. TVs 2 biggest shows air Thu at 8p. The Vampire Diaries is a big show with women 18-34. Community has a very loyal young male audience (the same that would watch Zero Hour). Even if you have 2 DVRs and you happen to watch all these shows, your dance card is full. You can’t even DVR Zero Hour.  Any avid TV watcher that might even be planning to watch Zero Hour likely has some conflict Thu at 8p. By putting the pilot online, ABC is making it easier for someone to not watch or DVR the show.

ABC will likely say it’s at most only a few thousand that will watch online which is a small number when you travel in the millions and if some of those viewers start beating the drum early with positive word of mouth, it’s a win. Plus, for all I know it could be tracking horribly and this can only help. When put like that, it sort of makes sense. I guess I just don’t understand why you would want to potentially minimize your audience in a timeslot it already has a tough shot at success in. Recent examples suggest there is something to be said for getting people to the TV (or DVR) on premiere night. Maybe I’m just old school.

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2 Responses to Why Did ABC Release The ZERO HOUR Pilot Online 2 Weeks Early?

  1. Pingback: Why Are The Broadcast Nets Still Releasing Pilots Early? | Random Musings from a BigTVfan

  2. Pingback: The Business of Show: Is the Practice of Releasing Pilots Early Online Doing More Harm Than Good? - Music. Movies. News.

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