- The number of pilots being ordered annually at the five major US broadcast television networks — ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox, and The CW — has decreased by 32% since 2015, according to a new Ampere Analysis study.
- This mirrors the strategy of streaming services like Netflix that typically bypass the pilot process.
- Two big reasons for the change are that more TV shows are being rebooted than ever before and that costs are rising.
- But pilot orders have also stabilized in the past year across the five networks: 74 were ordered in 2018, and 73 were ordered this year, according to Ampere.
- "There’s no one model that the networks have adopted as they move away from pilots, rather they have opted a range of development options, including reboots and spin-offs, co-production, remakes, and straight-to-series," Fred Black, the Ampere Analysis analyst, said in the report.
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At a time when Netflix drops entire seasons of TV shows at a time, television pilots have become nearly irrelevant in the streaming ecosystem. And even for TV networks, which have traditionally used pilot episodes to determine potential shows’ fates, there’s been a shift away from them.
The use of pilots among the top five US TV networks — ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox, and The CW — has decreased by 32% since 2015, according to an Ampere Analysis study released on Thursday.
Pilots are made to sell a network on whether to give a show a series order, but the traditional networks have moved away from this practice in the last four years. It’s strikingly similar to how Netflix and other streamers develop TV series. But while audiences are consuming content in different ways than what the networks are accustomed to, there’s more to it than that.
Two big reasons for the lack of pilots on the big five networks, according to Ampere, are:
- TV shows that already have fanbases are being rebooted or revived more than ever before. Some examples of this include "Roseanne," which was rebooted at ABC and was the most-watched series of 2018, according to Nielsen; and "Brooklyn Nine-Nine," which was canceled by Fox last year but quickly picked back up by NBC.
- The costs of making TV are rising, so fewer pilot episodes are being ordered.
That doesn’t mean that fewer shows are being made, just that separate pilot episodes add to costs. In fact, the amount of shows being ordered to series has been consistent over the last four years while the amount of pilots being ordered is dropping, according to Ampere.
The chart below shows the number of pilots ordered for each major network from 2015 to this year:
"There’s no one model that the networks have adopted as they move away from pilots, rather they have opted a range of development options, including reboots and spin-offs, co-production, remakes, and straight-to-series," Fred Black, Ampere Analysis analyst, said in the report.
But the amount of pilots being ordered appears to also be stabilizing, Black noted. Across all five networks, 74 pilots combined were ordered in 2018, while 73 were ordered this year.
That’s thanks largely to ABC, which has ordered the most pilots (of the big four networks not including The CW, it’s ordered the fewest to series). Only six of the 26 pilots ABC has ordered this year received series orders.
"Our analysis from 2015 shows how increasingly concepts and scripts have leapfrogged the pilot phase and gone straight to series as broadcasters mimic the approach of the SVoD giants who often eschew the pilot phase altogether," Black said. "In the last year we’ve seen a sea change, and the number of pilots created by the broadcasters has stabilised, so we’ll be watching this space clearly to see how the trend develops."
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