Research by Ampere Analysis investigates the use of pilot episodes by the five largest broadcasters in the US: ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC and The CW. The exclusive analysis finds that the number of pilots ordered by US broadcasters has decreased by one third (32 per cent) over last four years, dropping from 106 titles a year in 2015 to just 73 titles by 2019, despite the same number of new series being produced.
Although the number of pilots has fallen, the proportion progressing to series has remained consistent, at 45 per cent. US networks seem to be adopting the strategies of the SVoD players where pilots are used far less, if at all. But with a levelling out effect seen in the last year, does this signal the end of the pilot episode?
Why the networks are dropping pilots
Fred Black, Ampere Analysis Analyst said: “There’s no one model that the networks have adopted as they move away from pilots, rather they have opted a range of development options, including reboots and spin-offs, co-production, remakes, and straight-to-series. What’s interesting is that the use of pilots, having declined sharply from 2015 to 2018, appears to be stabilising – having fallen by only one in last year*.”
Ampere Analysis has noted several reasons for the migration away from pilots including:
Drama hits a five-year low in 2019
Comedy is the most ordered genre for pilots
ABC is the only Big Four Network not scaling back its pilot orders
Most talked about new series coming in fall 2019
ABC: Stumptown (Thriller) and Mixed-ish (Comedy)
CBS: Evil (Sci-Fi) and All Rise (Crime)
Fox: NeXT (Sci-Fi) and Deputy (Crime)
NBC: Indebted (Comedy) and Lincoln (Crime)
CW: Nancy Drew (Crime) and Batwoman (Sci-Fi)
Black added: “At the moment, American broadcasters receive elevator pitches for the following year’s new shows in the summer. In fall they order scripts for the most promising concepts, and commission pilots the following January. Based on the response to the pilots, a series is progressed or dropped. 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.”