And the winner is? The sitcom, TV networks hope

Fri May 18, 2012 2:50am EDT
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By Yinka Adegoke and Liana B. Baker

(Reuters) - The big winner of this year's upfront TV advertising sales season was an old favorite: the sitcom.

By the time the curtain came down on the network previews on Thursday, 16 of the 36 new scripted shows added to the programming lineups of the big four broadcast networks - CBS Corp, Walt Disney Co's ABC, News Corp's Fox and Comcast Corp's NBC - were comedies.

Upfront week is the television industry's annual rite at which networks preview upcoming shows for advertisers and media buyers in hopes of persuading them to buy commercial time in advance.

Broadcast networks invested heavily in original scripted programming, as opposed to reality shows. Much of the investment went toward the venerable situation comedy as networks sought to justify the hefty fees they charge advertisers in a world where viewers' time is increasingly fragmented by online video and social media. The big four networks plus Univision and CW are expected to collect about $9.2 billion from this year's upfronts, an increase of 3 percent over last year.

The heavy bet on original scripted shows also has residual benefits thanks to insurgent companies like Netflix Inc, which have shown an appetite not only to compete, but to pay top dollar for the syndication rights to such programming.

"We're seeing a lot of comedy added and a lot less new reality shows," said Needham analyst Laura Martin. "This is good for the TV ecosystem because TV has to have good syndication windows to sell on shows to other networks. Reality has no library value," she said, referring to the reluctance of broadcasters to pay big bucks for reality shows that are several years old.

In an effort to shake off their ratings cobwebs, ABC and NBC, which have long ranked third and fourth in the ratings, respectively, made the most significant revamps to their schedules.

ABC is adding 10 new shows to its schedule including six dramas and four comedies. Two of the network's new dramas, "666 Park Avenue" and "The Last Resort," received positive buzz from media buyers who attended ABC's upfront presentation.   Continued...

Actor Dennis Quaid, recipient of the Male Star of the Year Award, holds up his award during the ShoWest Award show at the Paris Las Vegas resort in Las Vegas, Nevada April 2, 2009. REUTERS/Steve Marcus