Did ABC’s Split-Season Approach Help ‘Grey’s Anatomy,’ ‘Scandal’ and ‘Once Upon a Time’?

ABC's new approach to keep viewers happy and rerun-free for longer was a big risk, but early returns are positive.

Mar 13, 2014 at 12:25PM

ABC (a subsidiary of Disney (NYSE:DIS)) has tried very hard over the past few years to fix a problem common with any broadcast network business model. It involves scheduling a 22-episode drama series in a season that runs much longer than 22 weeks. This year, executives tried a new approach ... and at least on the surface, it looks to have worked.

A flawed model


(Credit: ABC)

Traditionally, the major broadcasters program "on-season" lineups from September to May before taking a break during the summer. A typical series had about 22 episodes a season, leaving a large window where the network airs reruns or plugs the hole with temporary alternative programming.

With a comedy it doesn't really matter -- the majority aren't serialized and audiences have less of a problem with the "start-stop" approach to viewing. With a drama series, though, fans hate being left in the lurch for weeks at a time. They get restless and then annoyed when they can't remember when the next new episode is on.

The old business model was basically to ignore the problem because audiences had few alternatives. Then came the rise of cable, premium cable, home entertainment, and streaming options, all of which forced the networks to adapt or lose viewers.

The first real solution that actually was proven to work came from Fox, which in 2005 made the then radical decision to delay network staple 24 until January. The move gave executives two big cards to play -- they could promote the show's return as a marquee event to help kick off the new year while also allowing the network to run the entire show uninterrupted for the entire rest of the season. For the final five seasons of 24, the drama would "start the clock" in the winter versus the fall. ABC eventually followed suit with Lost and saw similar success.

The 'two-batch' solution
The problem with that is that you still have to program the full season -- you can't just bench all of your top-tier shows until midseason. Last fall ABC told its advertisers that it had a better answer. Starting last September, the network decided on the "two-batch" method where its top shows like Grey's AnatomyScandal, and Once Upon a Time would run uninterrupted from September to December. The shows would then not return until late February/early March, when they would once again run uninterrupted through May.

The question then became whether audiences would come back after such a long stretch. There was also concern about whether the network could sustain itself during the gap with alternative short-term programs. The answer to that last question was easy: no. In fact, ABC's midseason slate turned in to a nightmare with new show after new show hitting new lows. That made the return of its established shows even more important.

Two weeks ago, the first two of those established shows (Grey's and Scandal) made their big returns to find audiences ready and waiting. Grey's surged 15% in the 18-49 demo since its last new episode, and Scandal increased by 6%. Last Sunday night, Once Upon a Time returned as well and saw a similar bounce, this time by 21%. Granted, both Grey's and Scandal came back to Earth in week two (and Once likely will also), but the point is that the gimmick of a "fall finale" cliffhanger was successful enough to initially get audiences to return in force. Once the audiences come back, it is then on the series instead of the network to drive repeat viewing.

Reviving a network


(Credit: ABC)

The twist to all this though is that while the those three shows took a long hiatus, ABC also gave Revenge a brief vacation as well and scheduled its return to coincide with Once's return, along with the debut of its latest midseason replacement, Resurrection. The thinking was that audiences would be so excited to have both established shows back that they'd stick around for the rookie one as well. It was a halo effect of sorts.

It worked! Resurrection completely revived the lineup and netted 13.5 million viewers and pulled a 3.6 in the all-important 18-49 demo. The series became the top-rated midseason drama premiere of the last two years overall, and the second most-watched drama debut of the 2013-14 season. In addition, it pulled the highest numbers in that timeslot for ABC since January 2010 and the highest in the demo since January 2011.

It was also impressive as it went head-to-head with the debut of Fox's Cosmos, the finale of HBO's True Detective, and the debut of a new episode of AMC's The Walking Dead. No matter what type of second-week slump the series hits next week, the odds of it falling off so dramatically that executives would cancel it are slim to none.

Overall, the experiment was a success. ABC's new business model could ultimately be a game-changer. The network had a rough go of it so far this midseason and this was a much needed win that resonates across not just the network, but its parent company, Disney. Expect the effects of this to be studied by across the board.

Now ABC doesn't have to be the only beneficiary of this new idea...you can as well.

The key to profiting off this type of analysis is to invest in companies you have a genuine interest in and then turn those industry insights into a strong portfolio through smart and steady investing. If you're interested in learning how to make some of the top entertainment properties work for you, make sure to check out The Motley Fool's free special report, an essential guide to investing. You can click here to get your copy today – and start profiting off the areas you enjoy reading about the most.

In the meantime, leave a comment and join the conversation. Do you like ABC's new approach? Did you watch Resurrection? Will check it out again this week? Let us know

Brett Gold has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Walt Disney. The Motley Fool owns shares of Walt Disney. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

1 Key Step to Get Rich

Our mission at The Motley Fool is to help the world invest better. Whether that’s helping people overcome their fear of stocks all the way to offering clear and successful guidance on complicated-sounding options trades, we can help.

Feb 1, 2016 at 4:54PM

To be perfectly clear, this is not a get-rich action that my Foolish colleagues and I came up with. But we wouldn't argue with the approach.

A 2015 Business Insider article titled, "11 websites to bookmark if you want to get rich" rated The Motley Fool as the #1 place online to get smarter about investing.

"The Motley Fool aims to build a strong investment community, which it does by providing a variety of resources: the website, books, a newspaper column, a radio [show], and [newsletters]," wrote (the clearly insightful and talented) money reporter Kathleen Elkins. "This site has something for every type of investor, from basic lessons for beginners to investing commentary on mutual funds, stock sectors, and value for the more advanced."

Our mission at The Motley Fool is to help the world invest better, so it's nice to receive that kind of recognition. It lets us know we're doing our job.

Whether that's helping the entirely uninitiated overcome their fear of stocks all the way to offering clear and successful guidance on complicated-sounding options trades, we want to provide our readers with a boost to the next step on their journey to financial independence.

Articles and beyond

As Business Insider wrote, there are a number of resources available from the Fool for investors of all levels and styles.

In addition to the dozens of free articles we publish every day on our website, I want to highlight two must-see spots in your tour of fool.com.

For the beginning investor

Investing can seem like a Big Deal to those who have yet to buy their first stock. Many investment professionals try to infuse the conversation with jargon in order to deter individual investors from tackling it on their own (and to justify their often sky-high fees).

But the individual investor can beat the market. The real secret to investing is that it doesn't take tons of money, endless hours, or super-secret formulas that only experts possess.

That's why we created a best-selling guide that walks investors-to-be through everything they need to know to get started. And because we're so dedicated to our mission, we've made that available for free.

If you're just starting out (or want to help out someone who is), go to www.fool.com/beginners, drop in your email address, and you'll be able to instantly access the quick-read guide ... for free.

For the listener

Whether it's on the stationary exercise bike or during my daily commute, I spend a lot of time going nowhere. But I've found a way to make that time benefit me.

The Motley Fool offers five podcasts that I refer to as "binge-worthy financial information."

Motley Fool Money features a team of our analysts discussing the week's top business and investing stories, interviews, and an inside look at the stocks on our radar. It's also featured on several dozen radio stations across the country.

The hosts of Motley Fool Answers challenge the conventional wisdom on life's biggest financial issues to reveal what you really need to know to make smart money moves.

David Gardner, co-founder of The Motley Fool, is among the most respected and trusted sources on investing. And he's the host of Rule Breaker Investing, in which he shares his insights into today's most innovative and disruptive companies ... and how to profit from them.

Market Foolery is our daily look at stocks in the news, as well as the top business and investing stories.

And Industry Focus offers a deeper dive into a specific industry and the stories making headlines. Healthcare, technology, energy, consumer goods, and other industries take turns in the spotlight.

They're all informative, entertaining, and eminently listenable ... and I don't say that simply because the hosts all sit within a Nerf-gun shot of my desk. Rule Breaker Investing and Answers contain timeless advice, so you might want to go back to the beginning with those. The other three take their cues from the market, so you'll want to listen to the most recent first. All are available at www.fool.com/podcasts.

But wait, there's more

The book and the podcasts – both free ... both awesome – also come with an ongoing benefit. If you download the book, or if you enter your email address in the magical box at the podcasts page, you'll get ongoing market coverage sent straight to your inbox.

Investor Insights is valuable and enjoyable coverage of everything from macroeconomic events to investing strategies to our analyst's travels around the world to find the next big thing. Also free.

Get the book. Listen to a podcast. Sign up for Investor Insights. I'm not saying that any of those things will make you rich ... but Business Insider seems to think so.

Compare Brokers