Free to Air networks are hitting the “Go” button this month, fast-tracking new shows from the US in a bid for ratings and to combat illegal piracy, including shows such as Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Hostages and Sleepy Hollow.
TEN was the first network to fast-track US dramas with Jericho back in 2006 (there was a bit of an industry stoush later over Seven’s branding of “fast-tracking” first). Other shows followed suit in 2007, with shows like Prison Break, Bionic Woman, Skins, Californication, Heroes, Supernatural, Damages, Doctor Who…
While some shows kept up the fast-tracking across recent years, it’s fair to say networks had also cooled on the idea.
But a year ago Foxtel ramped up its offerings, with multiple day and date broadcasts for premium shows, then excelling with afternoon premieres within 2 hours of a US west coast broadcast.
Foxtel Director of Television Brian Walsh tells TV Tonight, “We launched Express from the US exactly twelve months ago, and it firmly established itself as a very clear positioning statement to our subscribers about running programs day and date –so much so that it’s been adopted across the platform by other channels such as FX and Showcase to reinforce the fact that Foxtel is about watching television with the rest of the world.”
Free to Air networks know that pausing fast-tracked shows during summer annoys viewers and interrupts momentum. With promotional material sometimes limited, there have been conflicting views on whether established shows are safer to premiere than debut seasons.
“I remember that Tim Worner came out this time last year and didn’t necessarily hold the (same) view and that may be the case for Channel Seven viewers,” Walsh says. “Maybe they don’t download programming like the younger demographic do. But I think it’s something that our subscribers have come to expect from Foxtel and we have to remember they’re our subscribers, paying us a monthly fee and they’re entitled to watch television programmes when they’re broadcast –irrespective of the territory.
“They held onto Revenge for four months and the audience dropped significantly. I’ll be fascinated to see what they do with Downton (Abbey) because I bet they still hold that for six months.
“The older-skewing viewers are the ones who are going to JB HiFi and buying DVDs for Christmas. You can’t keep treating viewers like that. The world has changed.”
Amongst the fast-tracked new shows for Foxtel are new seasons of Revolution, Chicago Fire, Hart of Dixie, Grimm, The Vampire Diaries, The Carrie Bradshaw Diaries, Boardwalk Empire and Sons of Anarchy -most will air within 48 hours of the US.
But Seven’s Head of Programming Angus Ross maintains the decision to fast-track or not is dependent on the show itself.
“Fast tracking is looked at on a show by show and season by season basis and the question always asked is – will this strategy result in the best ratings outcome for a show and our overall schedule?” he told TV Tonight.
“With The Blacklist and Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (pictured) we feel the AFL finals offer the best launch platform for success.”
Also coming up on Seven are the final season of How I Met Your Mother, and Once Upon A Time will air within days of its US premiere on on 7TWO. The Amazing Race will return in October.
Although not fast-tracked, Seven will also screen comedies Men At Work and The Neighbors and the second season of Scandal.
Nine is set to fast-track Hostages, starring Toni Collette, and Super Fun Night starring Rebel Wilson. There will also be new episodes of The Big Bang Theory, The Mentalist, Person of Interest and, on GO! from next week, Survivor: Blood vs. Water.
TEN wraps up its fast-tracking of Under The Dome next week, launching straight into Sleepy Hollow. It will also fast-track new episodes of Homeland, Elementary, Modern Family, Law and Order: SVU, The Millers and NCIS: LA.
SBS has promised Masters of Sex starring Michael Sheen and Lizzy Caplan as human sexuality pioneers Masters and Johnson in early October, four days after its US premiere.
ABC, which has a surprising number of Australian series still to premiere, is expected to fast-track the Doctor Who 50th anniversary special in the final week of ratings.
Meanwhile Foxtel is also excited about David E. Kelley’s new comedy The Crazy Ones.
“It marks Robin Williams’ return to (series) television since Mork and Mindy and co-stars Sarah Michelle Gellar. The guest in their first episode is Kelly Clarkson,” Brian Walsh explained.
“CBS are predicting this will be their big, new comedy hit. In the US it’s running between Big Bang Theory and Two and a Half Men on Thursdays. So they have high hopes for it, as do we.
“We’ll premiere the show in October running back to back with new (Pay TV) episodes of Modern Family on Sunday nights and will be Express in December. It will start in October a couple of weeks behind the US simply because we can’t get promo materials before it goes to air on CBS.
“But they always pre-empt episodes in November so we will have caught up to day and date by Christmas.”