2017 Fall TV Intelligence and Cultural Relevance

Sara Chambers Johnson

Sara Chambers Johnson

Senior Media Planner/Buyer

Fall TV Intelligence

With the Fall 2017 television season well underway, this year is proving to be a fascinating reflection of American culture and is a far cry from what we’ve seen over the past few years.

2017 Fall TV Insights

The first thing you’ll notice is that there are 30% fewer new shows for 2017’s fall season than there were last year. With so many platforms on which to watch content, there now exists a glut of original programming (455 original shows in 2016 to be exact), all in the interest of attracting the most viewers possible. The sheer number of original shows translates to a greater volume of cancellations, a greater number of returning shows and less need for a large number of new originals.

2017 has, thus far, proven to be a year of vast change. The Fall 2016 TV season was all about inclusivity, diversity and non-traditional family constructs. However, the advent of populist politics and a rise in the expression of conservative values and ideas have impacted American culture in a completely opposite fashion.

We’ve identified a few current cultural trends affecting television this season:

  • Political Upheaval – Specifically, cable news and late night programming have been largely impacted by the changing of the guard on a national level.
    • The Rachel Maddow Show on MSNBC was the #1 cable news program in 3Q17, a first for an MSNBC show, as cable news has long been dominated by Fox News, CNN and Headline News.
    • In late night, The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon has suffered disastrous audience loss that all started with ruffling Donald Trump’s hair during an interview at election time. Fallon is down 31% year-over-year. The Late Show with Stephen Colbert is now the #1 late show by a 30% advantage. And lately, throwing his hat into the political commentary ring with statements on health care and gun control, Jimmy Kimmel Live! viewership is up 9% overall. In addition to this increase, Kimmel is up 4% in the desirable A18-49 demographic, the only late night program to grow its A18-49 audience.
  • Yearning for a Simpler Time (Make America Great Again) – Uncertain times call for television stations to bring back old favorites, like Will & Grace on NBC and Dynasty on the CW. There are only more to come with reboots of Roseanne, The Munsters, Magnum P.I. and many more on the horizon. TV programming and scheduling involves a great deal of risk; however, rehashing old favorites is a good way to assure a built-in audience predicated on nostalgia.
  • Technological Advancement – Obviously, tech advancements are a continuing trend in our society. Shows such as CBS’s Wisdom of the Crowd, which features crowd-sourcing technology to solve crime, are reflective of new advancements. Science fiction, or technology that could one day be a reality, such as Fox’s Orville, CBS All Access’s Star Trek: Discovery and Hulu’s Future Man, remains wildly popular.

Programming trends for 2017 are stark and dependent on the rise in conservatism we are currently experiencing. Patriotism is this year’s stand-out programming trend with three new shows, each on a different network, about the military: The Brave on NBC, Seal Team on CBS and Valor on CW.  You’ll also notice a trend toward homogeneity demonstrated by a drastic lack of diversity amongst new broadcast programming with the majority of new network show leads being Caucasian and male.

The first few weeks of the Fall TV season have given us some stand-outs.

  • Young Sheldon on CBS retained 97.5% of its Big Bang Theory lead-in with 17.21 million viewers. It will be interesting to see if Young Sheldon can keep up that retention when it returns after Thursday Night Football and settles in its Thursday night home.
  • Will & Grace more than doubled its lead-in viewership on its premiere night – approximately 5 million additional viewers tuned in just to watch Will & Grace and then tuned right back out. Week 2 showed a 30% drop in viewership; however, it was still the #1 scripted show of the night (bested only by football).
  • The Good Doctor on ABC is the #1 new drama on broadcast television, impressive because it’s not a reboot or a spin-off. It bested its Dancing with the Stars viewership by 29% in week 1 (11.22 million viewers) and by 15.5% in week 2 (10.69 million viewers).

This post focuses primarily on broadcast television; cable and streaming platforms are less seasonal. As broadcast favors a more conservative approach to programming this season, cable and streaming programming are where you can find diversity and a wider variety of creative expression. This fact is one of the major contributing factors of television darling Shonda Rhimes leaving ABC for Netflix, where she has been given carte blanche to create. Broadcast networks are more beholden to regulations (due to the fact that they can be received over the air without a subscription) and advertiser preferences.

All in all, we’re just getting started with this season. Takeaways for advertisers are:

  • Almost nothing is a sure thing, but you can hedge your bets with football (although down in ratings, is still dominant), spin-offs of popular shows and reboots – just like the networks do.
  • Include a variety of programming to reach all levels of your target audience.
  • Be conservative with rating estimates, especially for new programming.
  • Explore available online video (OLV) and over-the-top (OTT) options as a method for increasing reach and targeted audience delivery.

Happy watching everyone!

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