Why New Award Shows are Crowding TV's Calendar

Justin Bieber Booed at Billboard - H 2013
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Justin Bieber Booed at Billboard - H 2013

As demand for live events drives up costs ($500 million for the Oscars), broadcast and cable nets are locking in top shows, creating new ones and making (nearly) everyone a winner.

This story first appeared in the Jan. 17 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

Three years ago, ABC executives scanned the calendar in search of an open date on which to plant an awards show. They zeroed in on the relatively barren late spring. "There was no other big live event in May," says Mark Bracco, ABC's vp alternative series and specials. "We said, 'There's an opportunity here.'"

ABC chose to revive the Billboard Music Awards, dormant since 2007. After decent ratings for the first two telecasts, the show in May 2013 jumped 21 percent to 6.3 million households (live plus same-day viewing). "It's a huge success for us now," adds Bracco.

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Today, there are few if any such holes in the schedule. As Hollywood's annual two-month frenzy of awards shows begins Jan. 12 with the Golden Globes, the reality is that for the TV networks, awards season now runs all year. And with ratings for awards shows for the most part healthy (and DVR-proof), the calendar is as full as it has ever been. ABC alone now broadcasts the Oscars (up 10 percent last year in the key 18-to-49 demo), the American Music Awards (up 32 percent), the Country Music Association Awards (up 47 percent) and the Miss America pageant in addition to the Billboard Music Awards (the AMAs and Billboards are produced by Dick Clark Prods., owned by THR parent Guggenheim Partners). CBS airs eight awards shows, followed by NBC (six) and Fox (two). Relatively small cable networks like Cartoon Network and Hallmark Channel are now in the awards game with, respectively, the Hall of Game Awards and the American Humane Association Hero Dog Awards. There are at least 19 televised awards shows between Jan. 1 and the Academy Awards on March 2.

The demand is driving up the costs to air the top shows at a time when some wonder whether a saturation point is being reached. "Any time you have success it puts pressure on license fees," says Jack Sussman, executive vp specials, music and live events at CBS, which has locked in the Grammys through 2021 for roughly $50 million per year. Two years ago, ABC preemptively renegotiated to tie up the Oscars through 2020 in an estimated $500 million deal. It has the CMAs through 2021 and is negotiating to re-up with the AMAs, according to sources.

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With A-list shows unavailable, networks desperately are seeking shows to launch or revive. "Clearly, entering the game at the point at which something is being [created or] renewed comes with an enormous premium," says Paul Telegdy, head of alternative and late-night programming at NBC, which is bringing back the American Comedy Awards in 2014.

Not everything is working. The CW aired the Young Hollywood Awards in August and drew only 870,000 viewers in the 18-to-49 demo, but it will try again this year. The Teen Choice Awards on Fox did only slightly better, reaching 1.1 million 18-to-49 viewers in August. The Critics' Choice Movie Awards fared relatively well in 2013 on The CW. But the Critics' Choice Television Awards, which aired in 2012 on ReelzChannel and VH1, ran online only in June. It will return to The CW this summer.

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One way networks are leveraging awards brands and justifying the mounting license fees is by creating "halo" programming. ABC added a CMA concert show in June and a CMA Christmas special. The Grammys now reveal nominations via a concert special. "If we have 5 or 6 million people tuning in, versus the press conference we used to do, there's no comparison," says Neil Portnow, president/CEO of The Recording Academy. Advertisers, especially those targeting women, also like spinoffs. "You can have a lot more [sponsor] activity around the [halo show]," notes Brent Poer, president of LiquidThread, part of the Starcom MediaVest agency.

Despite the danger of awards overkill, many believe shows will proliferate until networks can come up with another nonsports way to drive live tune-in and social-media activity. Notes Portnow, "It's the one thing where you want to be there to see it."