Advanced Television

Analyst: Scripted content badly hit by Covid delays

September 17, 2020

Research by Ampere Analysis has revealed that producers of high-end scripted content will face Covid-related delays for far longer than their unscripted counterparts.

While producers of new unscripted content – which spends an average of just two months in production – have been able to adapt production to the new circumstances, already overcoming the worst period of delays, the same is not true for their scripted counterparts. Producers of new scripted content – which typically spends an average of 11 months in production – will be battling against Covid-related delays well into 2021. So how can producers of some of linear TV’s most popular content meet consumer demand for recent, relevant, and local content?

Unscripted titles continue to fill gaps left by delays

Compensating for the lack of new high-quality scripted content, unscripted commissions increased from 66 per cent in Q2 2019 to 72 per cent in Q2 2020. Reality shows benefitted the most from this trend with 24 per cent more titles commissioned in Q2 2020 than in Q2 2019.

The temporary stop in production also forced programmers to air older and less popular content to fill gaps, and some have turned to unscripted material to pad their schedules.

While the proportion of new content aired dropped steadily over Q1 & Q2 2020, unscripted content has already made a rapid recovery, with new titles representing a higher proportion of primetime series than before Covid-19. However, the proportion of new scripted primetime shows has yet to return to pre-Covid levels.

Programmers with new scripted titles will maintain competitive edge

While unscripted content has been perfect for plugging gaps in the short-term, linear viewers in the US and UK rated Comedy, Crime & Thriller, Sport, Drama and Sci-Fi & Fantasy as their top five genres in Q1 & Q2 2020 – the same period that saw a considerable decrease in the proportion of new titles aired for all five genres.

  • At the time of writing, almost half of all Scripted commissions from the first half of 2019 had yet to be released, highlighting the long production periods for scripted shows, and the impact of exposure to the Covid-linked production hiatus. As a consequence, delays for scripted titles ordered in the same period in 2020 — also exposed to the production shutdown — will run well into 2021.
  • While the production of some scripted genres like Drama and Romance can often be expedited, the ability to shorten the often lengthy post-production process for genres such as Action & Adventure, Sci-Fi & Fantasy, and Horror  – while maintaining output quality – will be key to limiting the onward impact of the pandemic.
  • Programmers that can air the highest volume of new scripted content, through commissions or acquisitions, in the next 12 months will win over consumers.
  • BBC’s Staged, one of the few scripted Drama titles to be produced during lockdown, has already been licensed in multiple markets, illustrating demand for fresh new scripted shows.

Olivia Deane, Analyst at Ampere Analysis, said: “Covid-19 has hit the production of high-quality, scripted content most severely, and producers will be fighting delays well into 2021. Linear programmers know that viewers won’t accept poor quality content and repeats indefinitely, and they will lose consumers to both broadcast and on-demand competitors if they don’t address the situation fast.”

“This is particularly problematic for channels that offer a high proportion of original scripted content. To maintain a competitive edge, they will need to adjust their acquisition models to compete in the race to broadcast new, high-quality content. This suggests a time to shine for independent studios with scripted projects already in the pipeline. However, with indies facing their own delays, it’s likely that supply will be outweighed by demand for the foreseeable future,” Deane added.

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