The sudden and unexpected disruption of TV production not only impacted many of our favourite shows, it caused a seismic shift in this fall’s TV schedule. This will impact media placements for the next quarter, to say the least. Whether you’re buying ads on TV for the first time, or you’ve done so before, there’s a new normal you need to know about when it comes to planning and placing.

Where we are: the current state of TV, at-a-glance

Television re-emerged as a welcome staple in most homes when Canadians had to stay home in March 2020 to help flatten the curve. According to a May 2020 Ipsos study, TV has solidified its place as the primary source of news for half of Canadians (49%); with 19% saying their trust in TV news has increased during the pandemic.

But it’s not just news that’s drawing us in, 67% watch primarily for entertainment and 57% to relax. So whether that’s streaming or live, Canadians are still spending time tuning in.

Spring saw a few of our favourite shows end early – some found a way to make it seem like a natural endstop, while others ended abruptly due to halted production schedules.

So, the big question in a media planner’s mind is, what will TV look like this fall?

Usually in May, networks present their Fall TV Upfronts in New York. This is when new shows are announced and fall schedules are confirmed, giving advertisers the opportunity to purchase their Q3 and Q4 TV at discounted rates before ratings kick in and prices get reworked to match viewership and inventory demands. Without clear schedules in place this year, Adweek has estimated that spending could be down one third, resulting in a potential U.S. $7 billion in lost revenue.

How networks are expected to keep content fresh this fall

Because production has been shut down since mid-March, no new episodes of our primetime favourites are currently in the works and may not be until later in summer. So how are networks filling those voids?

Fox is one of few networks that has confirmed its fall line-up. It, along with other networks, are likely to shift planned summer shows, pull programming from their other specialty channels, or best case, debut new shows that were already in the can prior to the shutdown. Networks like CBC, which doesn’t depend on U.S. simulcasts and syndications, can confidently launch fall programming, which it did at last week’s streamed upfront presentation. Corus, Bell and Rogers have all pushed their upfronts to the end of June, no doubt waiting for the other U.S. networks to finalize schedules.

Some think reality TV could see a big surge. These new shows could be filmed with smaller crews, and people on screen could potentially keep social distancing protocols in place (maybe more seasons of The Circle?) However, even some of our reality favourites have had to pause filming, including The Amazing Race and Survivor.

Will gameshows be as enjoyable in a silent studio? Jeopardy recently began production, but without its live studio audience. Late-night talk shows are also not immune. IS Jimmy Fallon as funny without the audience laughing along? The genre relies heavily on pre-production; a room full of writers brainstorming, relying on gut reactions and back-and-forth to gauge what’s going to get a laugh. Sure, Zoom and Google Hangouts has provided a place for people to work together, but will the lack of in-person interaction affect the end product? Just last week a new term, Zoom fatigue, was introduced. Most folks are quick to admit that screen time is not the same as face time.

The return of sports (and a much-needed bump in summer ad spending)

The NFL has already released its 20/21 schedule with a September start date, the NBA just announced a July return (with a schedule yet to be released), and the NHL is expected to follow suit. Many advertisers opted to pause their sports budgets rather than re-invest in regular programming. Getting those schedules confirmed will start opening those budgets back up. But what happens if there is a second-wave outbreak and seasons need to be stopped (again)?

“Nimble” is the name of the game

The big buzzword in TV planning right now is flexibility. CBC even coined the term “just-in-time buying” (borrowing from a familiar manufacturing term). Networks are aware that clients want to know what they’re paying for before buying. And the understanding should be that buyers will be booking under much shorter timelines; one that, as fall programming is confirmed, will allow greater leeway for them to shift placements; and perhaps even allow them to move their budgets between affiliate stations.

For agencies like ours and companies with in-house departments that place media frequently, staying on top of the ever-changing TV landscape is more important than ever. The options and alternatives are in constant flux, and our frequent communication with our reps helps us identify the best opportunities for our clients’ plans.

For those who only occasionally place television media, you’re bound to find your upcoming campaign planning is a more complex exercise. If you need a little more help this year than you have in the past, don’t hesitate to reach out for some guidance.