CYNOPSISMEDIA PRESENTS: Upfront Update March 31
DISCOVERY COMMUNICATIONS At Discovery Communications’ press breakfast in NYC, CEO David Zaslav noted, “The basic elements of our business have turned significantly more positive. We’re spending more money on content and our brands.” Primary focus? “Growing audience around the world.” Zaslav explained the company is following ESPN’s road map for sports dominance in Europe, going direct to consumer with its Eurosport app.
But there was plenty to report on U.S. operations. Among the success stories: ID, the number one network for W25-54 in cable, season to date. A new slate of programming for the 2016-17 includes 13 new series and 16 returning true crime shows. “With the explosion of interest in crime programming, Investigation Discovery has been an unstoppable success,” said Henry Schleiff, group president.
Following its highest-rated quarter ever among P25-54/M18-49 and Women 25-54/18-49 in Live+3, Science Channel is bringing back event Punkin Chunkin and looking to repeat success with Search for the Next Mythbusters (the original ran for 15 seasons on Discovery). Upcoming specials include Mission Jupiter (wt), and live broadcasts of events like NASA space launches.
Discovery will launch 20 new series, two of them scripted: mini-series Harley and the Davidsons, and Manifesto, about the hunt for Unabomber Ted Kaczynski. Deadliest Catch spinoff Dungeon Cove will follow the lives of fisherman in Oregon, and competition The Wheel puts extreme survival experts to the test. “Discovery had a record-breaking 2015,” said Rich Ross, group president. “We are up among millennials and double digits with women, Hispanic and African American audiences. I believe this current slate of programming will continue to build the brand and attract an even more diverse audience.”
Paranormal programming has proven to be a winner for Destination America, so there’s more on tap among upcoming new series are Ghost Brothers and Ghosts of Shepherdstown. Ghoul-free programming includes What’s for Sale: With a View, launching Wednesday, April 13 at 10:30p an BBQ competition Smoked on Wednesday, June 1 at 10p.
The shuttering of A+E Networks’ H2 (to make room for Viceland) is an opportunity for American Heroes Channel, now the only cable home for full-time history content, noted Schleiff. New programming will include series Civil War Chronicles and How the World Ends.
Velocity, the little network with the big engine, had its best-yet year, the number one non-sports network last year for M18-49/25-54 in 4Q15 among nets with less than 70 million subscribers. Under the hood for 2016/2017 are new series Speed Is the New Black (wt), Wild Rides Alaska (wt) and RMD Design (wt).
Nancy Daniels, president of TLC and Discovery Life, announced TLC’s first scripted series, eight-episode soapy drama Too Close to Home (wt), from Tyler Perry. “This is a big swing for us, but it’s something we’re excited about,” said Daniels. Nate Berkus lends design star power in Married to Design: Nate & Jeremiah (wt), and OutDaughtered focuses on the family of the only all-female set of quintuplets in the country. This summer, TLC is launching a new brand campaign, “I AM,” celebrating “the differences that make us who we are.”
Animal Planet takes viewers to The Zoo in a new documentary series, and offers two new veterinarian shows, Texas Vets and Penn Vet. Life of Dogs (wt) looks at canines from wild wolves to pampered pets, while programming event Animal Planet Presents will include films like Life After: Chernobyl.
COMEDY CENTRAL NYC’s Town Hall was the site of a rollicking Comedy Central upfront event, hosted by The Daily Show host Trevor Noah. Viacom heads Philippe Dauman and Thomas Dooley were on hand, as was a slew of talent including Amy Schumer, Jeff Ross, Another Period creators Natasha Leggero and Riki Lindhome and Broad City creators Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson, among others – none of whom felt the need to tone their act because the bosses were in the room. But whether in person or onscreen, Comedy talent knew the Upfronts are about business. Said Nathan Fielder (Nathan for You), via a video in which he interviews a millennial: “Millennials are so valuable to advertisers because they can be influenced before their brains have developed.” Daniel Tosh (Tosh.0), also by video, went through a montage of times he’d mentioned products and brands on his show then added,“My fans are always telling me, less comedy, more advertising.” After the laughs, the crowd was herded into event space Gotham Hall.
Among a slew of programming orders are two series from Kevin Hart; a special starring Daily Show’s Jordan Klepper; fresh roasts with Jeff Ross; a series of comedy documentaries from Drunk History’s Jeremy Konner; stand-up specials from Kurt Braunohler, Deon Cole, Pete Davidson, Joe DeRosa, Trevor Moore, Big Jay Oakerson, Dan Soder and The Goddamn Comedy Jam, and digital series Typical Rick.
Development news includes independent deals with Jessica Williams and Jordan Klepper, with Williams co-writing, producing and starring in a half-hour scripted narrative pilot and Klepper producing and starring in a late night talk show presentation. Production deals include projects from Schumer, Chris Hardwick, Channing Tatum, Olivia Wilde, Jack Black, Eva Longoria, Ed Helms, Melissa McCarthy and Ben Falcone, along with Abominable Pictures, Above Average, Funny Or Die, Gloria Sanchez Productions, and Serious Business, among others.
The network had also just announced an expansion of its Discover channel on Snapchat, with an extensive development slate of original series exclusive to the platform.
CROWN MEDIA It’s not just about Christmas at Hallmark and Hallmark Movies & Mysteries. “We continue to build franchises and events that sync up with the Hallmark brand and retail calendar,” said Bill Abbott, president and CEO of Crown Media Family Networks, to an audience gathered at NYC’s Rainbow Room. “Rather than rely on one hit show or one franchise, we have created a 365-day experience.” Talent on hand included actors Lori Loughlin, Jack Wagner and James Denton, and as well as Kitten Bowl host Beth Stern and announcer Mary Carillo.
Coming up in 2017 is Hallmark’s fourth Kitten Bowl, and two weeks of Valentine’s-themed programming. “June Weddings” and “Summer Nights” come in the summer, with new Hallmark series Chesapeake Shores. That’s along with plenty of Christmas fare, of course, including a broadcast of the annual Christmas tree lighting in Washington, D.C.
What are advertisers responding to?“The diversity of our original content including primetime scripted series, Hallmark movies, our original lifestyle programming in the daytime, mysteries on HM&M, and specials (like Kitten Bowl),” EVP, ad sales Ed Georger tells Cynopsis. “Because our reliable programming consistently delivers high ratings, we take the risk out of the media buy, allowing advertisers the ability to deliver their schedules in the quarter they planned. Crown Media also provides advertisers with the unique value of a family friendly environment, which is becoming increasingly rare in the cable landscape.”
Just for fun: Some Crown Media stars revealed their most challenging moments on the job.
Alison Sweeney (Murder, She Baked): “The time the teleprompter blacked out on me during the live Biggest Loser finale. I knew I had a huge speech to deliver, and all of a sudden it was gone.”
Lori Loughlin: “Dealing with the mud and the corset on When Calls the Heart.”
Beth Stern: “When the kittens all climb on me at once. Poor me! Not!”
SCRIPPS NETWORKS INTERACTIVE Scripps Networks Interactive had plenty to boast about at its Upfront event at Alice Tully Hall, a precursor to the celeb-filled event for advertisers held later in the day. President, national ad sales and marketing Jon Steinlauf started things off, noting the ratings rises at Scripps nets are rare in the cable world right now. The secret? “Personal is the new premium,” said chief programming, content & brand officer Kathleen Finch. “Our goal now is to make content that matters and turn talent into household names.”
HGTV, on pace to deliver its best first quarter ever, has a programming lineup of 17 premiere series, fresh episodes of 24 shows and 14 one-hour specials. New real estate titles include recently launched Listed Sisters, along with Good Bones, Home Town, Masters of Flip and Vintage Flip. Mountain Life is a new entry in the destination programming category. “HGTV is thriving because we have an established cadre of compelling star experts, as well as an influx of new talent who resonate with our audience,” said Allison Page, GM, HGTV, DIY and Great American Country. “Our content and scheduling is solid, we have a powerful development pipeline, and we’ve grown our audiences across the board particularly upscale audiences for several years.”
DIY, up 8 percent among A25-54 versus year-ago, has ordered 360 hours of new home improvement programming, including eight new shows, Holmes Buys Homes, Stone House Revival, Building Off the Grid: Big Sky Ranch, Louisiana Flip N Move, Alaska Flip N Move, and Maine Cabin Masters among them.
Travel Channel is taking a turn to the fun side. “Look for more Travel Channel shows like Expedition Unknown and Bizarre Foods that provide much-needed escape from the daily grind,” said Courtney White, SVP, programming. “We’ll travel to plenty of far-flung and fascinating places, eat mouthwatering foods and have lots of laughs along the way.” With five consecutive months of ratings gains, the net has commissioned 400 original programming hours, and has over 35 new series (like Andrew Zimmern’s Driven by Food and Dartboard Road Trip) and pilots in the pipeline. Travel is event-izing summer with offerings like 7 Water Wonders, Top Secret Swimming Holes, Xtreme Waterparks and Life’s a Beach.
On the menu at Food Network and Cooking Channel are 30 new series and 40 returning shows. “Continuing to fuel our pipeline with series that entice co-viewing and entertain audiences of all ages is a top priority for 2016,” said SVP, programming and development Didi O’Hearn. New to Food will be Cooks vs. Cons, Cake Masters, Guy’s Grocery Games Redemption Tournament, 12 Hungry Yelpers and Kids BBQ Championship, among others, while Extra Virgin: Americana, Million Dollar Critic, Cheap Eats and Patti LaBelle’s Place are among the selections on Cooking’s programming plate.
Great American Country grew ratings by over 30 percent in 1Q16 among prime viewers P25-54, and they did it by taking it outside. “We will keep building on our success by focusing on families who love the experience of outdoor living,” said Page. The network released a slate of returning series: Season 2 of Going RV will premiere Wednesday, May 4, at 9p, while, the second season of Lake Guys debuts Thursday, May 5 at 8p. Additionally, season 7 of Flea Market Flip is set for Sunday, July 3, at 9p and season 2 of Mega Decks will premiere in July.
POP Pop announced an upfront slate that includes over 400 hours of original content and eight original shows. “We have had nine quarters of year-over-year growth,” net president Brad Schwartz tells Cynopsis. “Small shifts are making big differences.” Banking on increased distribution to keep numbers growing for content designed to attract a target audience of “modern grown-ups,” fun-loving, socially engaged entertainment fans, new docu-comedy Hollywood Darlings, focused on child stars of the 90s, joins original scripted comedies Schitt’s Creek and Nightcap, returning series Sing it On, Rock This Boat: New Kids on the Block and Unusually Thicke, pop culture game show Easiest Game Show Ever and after show Big Brother After Dark.
One year after the network’s rebrand, advertisers are responding. “We’ve added nearly 100 new blue chip advertisers and are well-positioned for this year’s upfront offering a premium cable environment at an efficient price,” said Michael DuPont, EVP, Ad Sales. “Advertisers view Pop as an attractive and more competitive alternative to other lifestyle and entertainment networks.”
NATIONAL GEOGRAPHICS CHANNELS The theme of National Geographic Channels’ Upfront breakfast was Mars, and the programming message was the power of storytelling to change the world. “While many networks are seemingly out in the marketplace trying to find and distinguish their brands, our strength is that we already have one a global brand with a legacy in science, exploration, and adventure that is synonymous with quality,” said Global Networks CEO Courteney Monroe at midtown Manhattan’s Park Hyatt. “By harnessing an unparalleled portfolio of media assets through National Geographic Partners, we’re going to offer true 360 degree experiences, extending our storytelling for both viewers and advertisers across an unrivaled number of platforms.” Monroe said Nat Geo is also luring more millennials with social and environmental programming, “because millennials care about social issues.”
New programming includes six-part global event series Mars, from Imagine Entertainment and Radical Media (exec producer Ron Howard was on hand to sketch out the doc/scripted combo); Origins (Asylum Entertainment and melodysheep), hosted by passionate-about-the topic Jason Silva (Brain Games), exploring how humankind took shape; Chain of Command (National Geographic Studios), offering inside access to the U.S. military’s mission in Afghanistan; Lawless Oceans (Wall to Wall Media), following the mystery of murder at sea, and Deep Freeze (National Geographic Studios), set on a base in Antarctica. Also on the way: Earth Live! (Bunim Murray Productions), capturing live footage of nature from Australia to Brazil. Coming back is an expanded Explorer as a weekly “docu-talk” series, debuting this fall on Nat Geo’s 171 channels globally.
And of course there were puppies, both real (not to worry already adopted), and on-screen. Coming on Nat Geo WILD marking its most-watched year ever is Project Puppy (Blast Films), a reality show about six families raising pooches; Animal ER (Propagate Content), set in a veterinary hospital, and Pet Talk (Leepson Bounds Entertainment), a talk show for animal lovers. Event Savage Kingdom (Icon Films) shows the real-life rivalries of predators and prey in the wild.
Upshot? The networks are offering “a cornucopia of amazingness,” Monroe told Cynopsis.
GAME SHOW NETWORK Midtown’s Paley Center for Media was the site of Game Show Network’s Upfront presentation, a low-key but upbeat affair for a network boasting its fourth consecutive year of growth in all key demos, and its most-watched year ever in 2015. “Our little niche television network is now a top 30 television network,” said David Goldhill, president and CEO. “Last year 80 million Americans watched GSN. On purpose.” Talent on hand included Skin Wars host Rebecca Romijn, Idiotest’s Ben Gleib, Hellevator’s Jen and Sylvia Soska, Skin Wars judge RuPaul Charles and Donald Faison.
Getting the green light are spin-off Skin Wars: Fresh Paint, hosted by RuPaul Charles and featuring three former Skin Wars contestants mentoring new artists each week; merchandising competition series Window Warriors, from Skin Wars producer Michael Levitt Productions, and game show Winsanity, from Barracuda Television Productions and Chris Grant of Electus, hosted by Scrubs alum Donald “this is one of the most fun things I’ve ever done” Faison. Election special Political Idiotest, hosted by Gleib, aims to “determine once and for all which political party has the best ‘idiots.’”
Pilot projects include Breaking App (wt), a competition to find the next great app, executive produced by Brien Meagher and Rhett Bachner of B17 Entertainment and Cheri Brownlee of Cheri Sundae Productions and crime-solving game The Investigation, exec produced by Stephen Land and Allison Wallach of Jupiter Entertainment. In development is one-hour game show Divided, tasking strangers with coming to a consensus, game show Run & Buzz and Glass Wars, a competition for glassblowers.
Also of note: 60 percent of the net’s new viewers last year were under 50, and median age has fallen to 59. “We’re going to continue to make shows that are really defined by being fun, funny and even a bit uplifting and inspiring, because that’s what GSN is about,” said Goldhill. “So I am proud to announce that we are going to be doing more of the same.”
So how does GSN stand out from the pack? “We just completed our most-watched year ever for the 4th consecutive year,” John Zaccario, head of ad sales, tells Cynopsis. “The momentum that we built in 2015 has not subsided this year.First quarter is delivering across all key demos.Our originals are generating new audiences, and we continue to be one of the most ambitious developers of original programming in all of cable.”
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