Last-minute series pickup negotiations between broadcast networks and studios are always contentious as the two sides engage in some old-school gamesmanship and horse trading over co-productions, time slots and leveraging a hot show to save a bubble one. But this year, there is a new element that has made negotiations with outside studios even more complicated — in-season stacking rights, which allow nets to stream all episodes from a series’ current season on its platforms.
ABC set the tone in March, announcing what the network called an “unprecedented” deal with Warner Bros. TV Group, creating a template that grants the network full in-season stacking rights to all episodes of new WBTV series for the coming two seasons. (The networks traditionally only have had access to “rolling five” most recent episodes of shows they don’t own.)
ABC did the bulk of its pickups this afternoon, Thursday. Notably, all orders and renewals were to ABC Studios and WBTV shows until the very last batch of series pickups of pilots Notorious and Imaginary Mary and second-second renewal of Dr. Ken. All three are from Sony TV, which, as a leading studio with co-producing partner ABC Studios, owns the streaming rights. What is still missing? A pickup of hot comedy pilot Speechless and renewal decision on veteran Last Man Standing. Both hail from 20th Century Fox TV.
I hear both studios had been asked to grant the network in-season stacking rights. After lengthy negotiations, ABC today came to an agreement with Sony TV, paving the way to the three-series pickup. Conversations with 20th TV are still ongoing.
NBC is the first broadcast network to present its 2016-17 lineup on Monday morning. Yet, the network has been slow in picking up pilots to series this week, ordering four shows so far, comedies Powerless and Trial & Error from Warner Bros. TV on Wednesday night and dramedy This Is Us from 20th TV and the Chicago Justice spinoff, from Universal TV, on Thursday night. I hear the pickups came after WBTV and then 20th TV agreed to give the network in-season stacking rights. At NBC, it is Sony TV, which is still in discussions with the network, with a number of shows in play, hot drama prospects Timeless and The Blacklist spinoff, which look good for a pickup, Cruel Intentions, which also is in contention, as well as freshman drama Game of Silence, which is heavily on the bubble
Fox is the only network that has wrapped its new series orders. Of all 8 newly picked up series, only one, WBTV’s Lethal Weapon, does not come from the network’s own studio. I hear Fox got in-season stacking rights on the series.
I hear CBS also has started to introduce in-season stacking rights language in its pickup and renewal deals for newer shows like Life In Pieces. The network has not been as aggressive but it is yet to get into the nitty-gritty of ordering new series.
The in-season stacking rights issue has become increasingly contentious between networks and studios as both sides try to better monetize on-demand viewing.
The March ABC/WBTV agreement is said to be limited to Disney/ABC-branded ad-based platforms only (no subscription-based services) and will require authentication, with Warner Bros. retaining end-of-season SVOD rights. ABC is said to be pursuing similar terms with other outside studios, though some indicate that SVOD rights may also be on the table.
“This is a real win for network television viewers,” ABC EVP Jana Winograde said at the time the WBTV deal was announced. “Giving our audience even more opportunities to catch up on their favorite shows in their entirety, on demand, only enhances their loyalty to and engagement with ABC and our series.”
There is a downside for studios — Netflix, the top streaming buyer of off-network content, for example, has been firm on exclusivity, only willing to shell out top dollar for shows that had not had online exposure beyond the standard “rolling five.” So giving a broadcast network full in-season rights to new shows would likely lower the shows’ financial prospects at a place like Netflix.
Indie studios Sony TV and WBTV set records by selling exclusive SVOD rights to their dramas The Blacklist and Gotham, respectively, to Netflix for $2 million an episode.
Under the in-season stacking rights deal, broadcast networks compensate studios for the expanded streaming rights but that is unlikely to match what a show could get from SVOD providers on the open market. On the other hand, a stacking rights deal helps a studio get and keep their broadcast shows on the air, which is no easy task in this day and age.