April 17, 2024

In Cable Niches, Less Reality and More Original Shows

Now, for the first time, she is in charge of a one-hour drama, but it is not for any network she envisioned earlier in her career. It is for VH1, the older-skewing version of MTV.

Niche cable channels like VH1 that have depended solely on unscripted programs or repeats of others’ scripted programs are now trotting out their own comedies and dramas. Their aim is diversification. When Ms. Littlejohn’s drama, “Single Ladies,” has its premiere late this month, “it’ll distinguish VH1 amid their steady diet of reality shows,” she said.

Top-tier cable channels like USA and TBS have been creating dramas and sitcoms for more than a decade, but now relative small fry are doing the same. The shows are a way to stay competitive.

“I think the bar has been raised in scripted,” said Jennifer Caserta, the general manager of IFC, the Independent Film Channel, which may be better known now for the sitcoms “Portlandia” and “The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret.”

The trend toward more scripted cable shows has been evident at advertiser presentations by VH1, IFC and other channels this spring.

Cable channels are in the middle of the upfront advertising period, when they secure commitments for ad spending for the rest of the year.

Channel owners like Scripps Networks and Viacom have forecast big gains in the upfront period this year because ratings continue to drift toward cable and away from broadcast, and the advertising marketplace is rebounding. Cable ad time, which is generally less expensive than broadcast ad time, is expected to grow faster than broadcast.

The cable and broadcast marketplaces “seem well positioned for truly strong results,” the News Corporation chief operating officer, Chase Carey, told investors last week.

For small channels, scripted shows are centerpieces that can be displayed to advertisers — and can command premium advertising rates.

“More scripted shows, more incredible performances,” screamed a banner at the presentation last month by the cable channel BET, which has struck ratings gold with scripted comedies and is looking for its first drama project. Often, though not always, scripted programs are perceived to be safer harbors for advertisers than reality programs. Bhavana Smith, a vice president at Draftfcb, an advertising network owned by the Interpublic Group, called scripted a “more controlled environment” for brand integrations.

“Do you really want to rely on Snooki to do justice to your brand?,” she asked, referring to a “Jersey Shore” cast member.

At IFC, the Cheetos snack brand was featured on the most recent season of “Portlandia” and the Jameson whiskey brand was featured on “Todd Margaret.” Ms. Caserta said each companies’ advertising “is humorous in itself, so incorporating them into our scripted comedies was easy.”

Most cable channels still subsist largely on so-called reality shows. They are generally less expensive to produce than scripted shows, and they are generally repeatable dozens or even hundreds of times.

But there are advantages to having an original scripted show on the schedule. Such shows convey status — they can define a channel’s identity, help to deliver higher per-subscriber fees, and impress executives at the parent company.

In other words, sometimes it is about ego.

Small channels like AMC, with “Mad Men” and “Breaking Bad,” and TV Land, with “Hot in Cleveland” and “Retired at 35,” have provided something of a blueprint for others. BBC America, for instance, is developing its own dramas to supplement what it imports from Britain. With the trial in scripted television can come error. CMT, the country music channel, last month canceled its first sitcom, “Working Class,” due to low ratings.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=172d26973dc27d7221548b1ef73f3373

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