Television may be the least essential of industries impacted by a global pandemic, but as the impact of COVID-19 stretches from early spring to summer and uncertainty looming over when work on shows can resume, traditional networks are looking for creative solutions to give people things to watch.
Sitting in front of the TV and watching shows is pretty much good, solid medical advice at this point as people do their best to practice social distancing and stay out of crowds. Those with streaming subscriptions have strained the internet as they hunker down and start Schitt’s Creek a few years too late, but those tethered to traditional cable and over-the-air antenna for their entertainment are seeing a lot of productions filmed from home or, well, not at all.
Once that backlog of taped episodes runs out, however, networks will be faced with an interesting dilemma. Will Jeopardy! simply run old episodes when those taped before COVID-19 shut down tapings catch up to their usual built-in backlog. And what will networks used to rolling out entire slates of new fall lineups do when they’ve filmed little to no episodes over the summer?
It’s a quandary The Hollywood Reporter explored on Tuesday and revealed some interesting options, including a concept reportedly floated by NBC: raid existing streaming libraries to show “new” content to TV viewers.
Should no returning or new shows be able to launch during September’s annual Premiere Week, ABC, CBS and NBC have also started conversations with their streaming counterparts to see if any originals from Disney+, Hulu, CBS All Access or even upstart Peacock may be available to air on linear networks. Should ABC, for example, look to air content from Disney+ on the linear network, the studio would likely need to ink new deals with profit participants.
CBS is also expected to harness programming from CBS All Access, Showtime and its recently re-acquired brands MTV, VH1 and Paramount Network, say sources, though affiliates could balk. “It doesn’t make affiliates happy when you promote your competition,” notes one exec, while another adds, optimistically: “The trade-off might be getting them better numbers versus standing on principle about where programming came from.”
It’s an interesting proposition, and one that does have some merit: not every consumer has both streaming services and also watches network TV. So there’s a potential to get those watching traditional television new content while also serving as an ad for the platforms on which they are usually available. Still, getting those shows there would require some considerable legal maneuvering and renegotiating some content.
As the story noted, NBC in particular has a huge window to fill with the Tokyo Summer Olympics delayed until 2021. That’s 85 hours of content to fill, and only so many game shows can fill the void. Fox, meanwhile, has a lot of animated shows that will air uninterrupted by the pandemic’s chaos. But as one source told THR’s Lesley Goldberg, it’s only a matter of time before every major network has a much bigger problem on, well, all of our hands.
Of course, if the shutdown carries on for several more months, one exec suggests much of this will be moot. “If that happens,” he says, “it’ll be all news, all the time.”
Whether we’ll see Quibi originals on over-the-air broadcasts come this fall seems uncertain right now, but with TV production essentially halted across the industry there’s a lot of holes to fill and even more uncertainty about when those holes can be filled by more traditional content.