US broadcasters drop the pilot | Media Analysis | Business | News | Rapid TV News
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Research from Ampere Analysis has found that the number of pilots ordered by US broadcasters ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC and The CW has decreased by a third (32%) over the last four years, dropping from 106 titles a year in 2015 to just 73 titles by 2019.
Ampere pilot 29Aug2019
The fall comes despite the same number of new series being produced and although the number of pilots has fallen, the proportion progressing to series has remained consistent, at 45%. Ampere noted that US networks seem to be adopting the strategies of the SVOD players where pilots are used far less and asked whether it had revealed a trend of the end of the pilot episode.

Ampere believes that there are several reasons for the migration away from pilots including a rise of the ‘reboot culture’, where previous shows with established audiences negate the need for networks to order pilots and the escalating cost of content. As regards the latter, the analyst pointed out that as some series cost up to $20 million per episode, broadcasters could mitigate costs by ordering fewer pilot episodes.

Looking at genres, Ampere found that drama hit a five-year-low in terms of number of pilots commissioned in 2019, with only six projects successfully moving beyond the pilot stage. By contrast, comedy was the most ordered genre for pilots accounting for over half of all pilot orders, and was the only genre maintaining the same number of pilots year-on-year, averaging 35.

ABC was the only Big Four Network not scaling back its pilot orders, and commissioned the most pilots, but took fewer to series than all broadcasters except for The CW. The broadcaster made 26 pilots in the 2019 season but only six successfully progressed to the series order stage. ABC’s primary focus was on Comedy, with 12 pilots. However, only two progressed to series - multicultural family sitcom United We Fall and Black-Ish spin-off Mixed-Ish.

Assessing why the networks were dropping pilots, Fred Black, Ampere Analysis analyst said: “At the moment, American broadcasters receive elevator pitches for the following year’s new shows in the summer. In autumn they order scripts for the most promising concepts, and commission pilots the following January. However, 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. 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.”