Jul 21, 2020 - Sports

The fall TV season looks doomed

The Netflix exit

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

TV's infamous fall lineup of new shows and series is going to look a lot different this year, thanks to paused production during the coronavirus pandemic and the uncertain future of sports.

Why it matters: With fewer dramas, scripted shows and sports, analysts expect more consumers to "cut the cord" or ditch expensive cable and satellite TV subscriptions. For live TV loyalists that chose to stick around, expect more news, animation, reality TV, live performances and documentaries.

Driving the news: Netflix said Thursday that it doesn't foresee programming production in America to return until 2021.

  • "[C]urrent infection trends create more uncertainty for our productions in the U.S.," the company said in a statement.

"If Netflix is telling you that they can't shoot content in the U.S. — and they've been out aggressively starting production around the world — that means that for the networks, it's not happening," says Rich Greenfield, a media analyst and Partner at LightShed.

  • "None of them are going to have a fresh season in the fall," he says. "I'm hopeful sometime between now and the end of calendar year they will be able to ramp up production."

The big picture: Networks have had to get creative to fill the gaps. But it's been hard for them to commit to definitive schedules without knowing for sure when production can return in the U.S. and what's going to happen to their fall lineups if sports don't return as planned.

  • Licensing shows: Several of the big broadcast networks, like NBC and ABC, released their schedules later than usual this year. When they finally unveiled their rosters, some included licensed programming from international networks.
  • Removing hits: Other networks have had to remove their tentpole programming from the fall schedule due to production delays. "Survivor," for example, won't appear on CBS this fall for the first time in nearly 20 years.
  • Adding safe bets: Fox was the first network to debut its fall programming slate. It debuted a mostly safe schedule in May, which includes animated series like "Bob's Burgers," game shows and reality TV shows like "MasterChef Junior."
  • Delaying shows for good: The CW so far has been the most forthright, saying in May that it would delay its' fall season until January 2021, citing delays in production due to the pandemic. The network doesn't rely on live sports for its programming lineup, which makes it easier for it to be more forthcoming.

On the bright side, some programs that were delayed earlier in the year will finally come back this fall. ABC plans to bring back "The Bachelorette" this fall, which was delayed from its summer release.

Be smart: The big juggernaut for networks is sports, and especially the NFL.

  • It's still unclear whether the NFL will definitely be able to return this fall, as players are beginning to sound the alarm around safety.
  • If the NFL doesn't return, networks' fall lineups could be in serious jeopardy, The Washington Post reports. Most bank on the NFL for more than 20% of their annual ad revenue and many haven't come forward with contingency plans should the NFL get spiked.
  • College sports also may not return, would have terrible financial repercussions for schools and networks that rely on big conference games. The Ivy League announced last week that it will cancel all fall sports. The move could trigger a ripple effect amongst other conferences.

Yes, but: If live sports do come back, analysts say they could salvage Pay-TV losses and boast record-ratings from sports-deprived viewers.

The big picture: The concept of a fall TV season is about as old as color TV. Beginning in the 1960's, networks began to align programming slates with new automobile models that also debuted in the fall.

  • For decades since, TV networks have relied on slates of new programming to delight consumers in the fall. They've used the pre-scheduled fall season as a way to squeeze advertising dollars out of Madison Avenue months ahead of time.

Go deeper: See the fall season broadcast lineup as of July

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