Why Are The Broadcast Nets Still Releasing Pilots Early?

Apparently the shitty ratings for Zero Hour hasn’t deterred ABC. Now they’ve
released the Red Widow pilot 2 weeks early. I questioned this decision a few weeks ago. (Why release Zero Hour early?) Now there’s even more evidence that in most cases the negatives for this practice outweigh any positive. I think this trend is self-defeating . Every show this year except Revolution that was released early has tanked. Most recently, any show released early has tanked horribly. Smash had its first hour released a few weeks early and the 2 hour premiere opened at a low 1.2. Do No Harm was on every online outlet weeks before and garnered the lowest premiere in broadcast network history and is already off the air. Zero Hour was ABCs lowest rated premiere in the all important 18-49 demo, EVER.

What’s even more curious about ABCs decision to release Red Widow early is that they have an incredible platform of 40 million viewers next Sunday to get the word out for the show’s premiere the following Sunday. There will be tons of promos for it during the Oscars. ABC has spent a fortune on the show and their impressive ad campaign doesn’t look cheap either. Isn’t the most important thing to get as many viewers there as you can on premiere night? CBS still seems to think so. You never see them releasing shows early. You can’t watch Golden Boy anywhere before Feb 26th at 10p on CBS. Of course every network isn’t as blessed as CBS, but in this case they teach an important lesson: Don’t help any of your viewers not watch your premieres on TV.  (UPDATE: Tue 2.19.13: Since I wrote this post, CBS has joined the fray and indeed released the pilot of Golden Boy online, a week before its premiere. I don’t recall them doing this before.)

Think about it – Would any major movie studio release a big film online early? Maybe a small indie might, but it’s not in the studio’s interest to shortchange any opening weekend numbers. They want people in the seats. Similarly, broadcast networks should want as many people in front of their TVs on opening night. Plus, so many networks these days hire big film directors for their pilots and spends lots of money on them. Is it really in ABCs interest to have viewers first look at a big cinematic show like Last Resort to be on their laptop vs. their high-definition TV?  

Some will argue that this practice gets positive word of mouth going early. But I’d argue it also gets early negative tweets about the show from people who have sampled it and didn’t like it. That could deter some potential viewers who were going to sample it and changed their minds. These days the broadcast nets are fighting for every eyeball vs. cable nets, Netflix, and the internet and they constantly make it easier for viewers not to watch their shows live or at the very least, set their DVR.  The only show to premiere really well since Revolution was The Following and FOX did not make that pilot available early.  They even encouraged viewers to DVR it.

All the aforementioned flops would have likely premiered badly even without an early online release and The Following would have likely done just as well even if FOX had made it available before the premiere. However, there’s little indication that this practice is benefiting any show and more importantly it’s sending a message to broadcast viewers that watching live or DVRing isn’t so important, when for the broadcast networks these days, there is nothing more important.

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One Response to Why Are The Broadcast Nets Still Releasing Pilots Early?

  1. forg says:

    Could not agree with you more. ABC has been making a lot of awful decisions this season

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