Fall TV schedules downplayed as networks focus on streaming efforts

Fox withheld its schedule while ABC emphasized its lineup, and advertisers don’t care. 

Fall TV schedules downplayed as networks focus on streaming efforts

As TV viewership continues to trend away from linear to streaming and more platforms announce details on their ad-supported tiers, marketers seem to care less about when on a grid a show will air and more that their commercials will be seen by consumers no matter where they watch. 

A subject of curiosity at this year’s upfronts is the fall schedule—or the lack of one.

The prime disruptor this year is Fox, which announced its slate of upcoming programming sans schedule. Some speculated the choice has more to do with final negotiations with 20th Television on top-performers “9-1-1” and “The Resident,” but Fox announced both would be renewed during its presentation Monday afternoon. The choice was made to emphasize the network’s strength across its portfolio—sports, news, entertainment and streaming platform Tubi, company executives told reporters on a call.

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“We felt when we decided to do a portfolio upfront that we would take a new approach,” said Charlie Collier, CEO of Fox Entertainment at Fox Media, on the call. "We talked about our portfolio and the way buyers are buying across it, and we thought to focus today on the linear grid was not the right way to go. We're so proud that it is a complimentary situation between the broadcast network and streaming, and so we decided not to focus on the schedule.”

Collier added that the network’s fall schedule would be released well in advance of the season. Marianne Gambelli, president at Fox Networks Groups, emphasized the company’s enthusiasm for the growth of streaming on the same call, claiming Tubi has “tripled in size over the past couple of years.”

“We certainly plan on monetizing Tubi to the full extent of its growth. And obviously, that [AVOD] market has exploded, a lot of dollars have moved, so we're excited to take it to market as part of our overall portfolio.”

Fox's lack of schedule announcement isn't expected to disrupt how advertisers do business during the spring ad haggle. "Programming changes so much throughout the year anyway, the exact schedule announcement isn’t materially important,” said David Campanelli, executive VP and chief investment officer at Horizon Media. 

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In contrast, some networks, such as ABC and CBS, have emphasized the importance and stability of their linear fall slate. ABC released its programming grid on Tuesday ahead of its presentation, leaning into the strength of its Wednesday evenings featuring “The Conners,” “The Goldbergs” and newfound hit “Abbott Elementary.”

“Our fall schedule is a testament to our strong, dynamic programming slate that we’re continuing to nurture with top talent, world-class, award-winning storytellers and marquee titles,” said Craig Erwich, president of Hulu Originals and ABC Entertainment, in a statement. “By capitalizing on the success of our strongest assets, we’re betting on stability while also introducing and investing in key projects that will allow us to build on our momentum as the No. 1 entertainment network for the third consecutive year.”

On Wednesday morning, CBS announced a similar emphasis on the strength of its linear scheduling. The channel is devoting Tuesdays to its “FBI” franchise and Wednesdays to its popular reality programming, including The Amazing Race” and “Survivor.” CBS declared Friday its “most dominant night,” allocating more of its law enforcement series to the end-of-week slate.

“For the new season, we once again looked for ways to strengthen our position with new, compelling series, scheduling them strategically to guarantee sampling and maximize consistency and flow,” said Kelly Kahl, president of CBS Entertainment, in a statement.

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And landing somewhere in the middle is NBC, which announced it schedule on Monday and that its shows would debut on Peacock the day after they air on linear. 

“While leaning into our strong, stable schedule in the fall, we’re also rethinking legacy launch timing to give our shows the best chance for success,” said Frances Berwick, chairman, Entertainment Networks, NBCUniversal TV and Streaming. “With the huge reach that our affiliate partner stations provide, coupled with exclusive next-day availability on Peacock, our NBC shows will truly be accessible to audiences in any way that they want to watch.”

For media buyers, the commotion is just noise as streaming has shifted marketers’ interest from timing to programming with the most eyes, which many networks support with cross-platform ad packages. 

“It’s not a huge deal to the buyers,” said an industry insider. “Most seasoned folks know that what is announced in May likely will get moved or delayed and it’s too early to set in stone. They mostly look at programming, not day/time.”

Others agree with the idea that timing matters less.

“As viewers continue to watch the content they love on their terms, on-demand and according to their timeline, the notion of 'day and date' has become less relevant,” Dave Sederbaum, executive VP, head of video investment, Dentsu Media US. “Furthermore, as our investment decisions are focused on specific audiences rather than programs per se, we are looking to reach consumers on their own time, in the right place and at the right time.”