Some media companies still haven’t yet confirmed they are done with upfront negotiations, but it’s now time to shift the focus to the other major TV event during the summer: the Television Critics Association’s summer press tour, which starts Tuesday at the Beverly Hilton in L.A.
Once again, more than 200 television journalists and critics are gathering for the TCA’s semiannual event (there’s also winter press tour each January/February, featuring 17 days of panels, set visits and receptions that will spotlight new and returning shows from dozens of broadcast, cable and streaming outlets. (Adweek, as usual, will be publishing stories extensively throughout.)
The broadcast networks use summer press tour to set their agendas for the coming TV season, but in addition to their linear rivals, those outlets will have to complete with an ever-increasing number of streaming competitors, with Disney+, HBO Max, Apple TV+ and NBCUniversal’s offering all expected to roll out before the 2019-20 season concludes.
But streaming is just one of the biggest questions expected to dominate the next two and a half weeks at press tour. Here are the biggest pressing topics we’re hoping to tackle:
Can HBO maintain quality while beefing up quantity?
This has been among the most tumultuous half-year in HBO’s history. Longtime CEO Richard Plepler exited this spring ahead of a major AT&T shakeup that saw Robert Greenblatt arrive as WarnerMedia Entertainment Chairman, overseeing HBO and the rest of WarnerMedia’s entertainment portfolio. During last summer’s press tour, programming chief Casey Bloys told reporters that new parent company AT&T wouldn’t “dilute” his network’s brand, and “no one is asking us to sacrifice quality for volume.”
The network’s programming budget has increased 50% under AT&T, and last week HBO reclaimed its spot as the most Emmy-nominated network after Netflix broke its 17-year streak in 2018. But with a new boss and a new streaming service in HBO Max to supply content for, Bloys will have to maintain his brand’s quality even as its offerings expand. His executive session should help detail how he expects that to happen.
How will the new streaming services shake up the industry?
Netflix and the other streaming services like Amazon and Hulu have loomed large over the last several press tours. Now, a new wave of streaming behemoths are on the horizon, including Disney+, HBO Max and Apple TV+.
That will require all the current broadcast, linear and streaming outlets to solidify their lineups to avoid losing audience to the new streamers on the block. Amazon, Hulu and CBS All Access will all be on hand during summer press tour (Netflix is sitting this tour out, and none of the new streamers are scheduled to participate.) We’ll have to see if they stick to their same strategies or adapt new ones in the face of increased competition.
The other question: how do these media companies bulk up their new streamers without sacrificing the quality of their current linear offerings?
How are networks like FX and Hulu adjusting to their new parents?
HBO isn’t the only out adapting to a new parent company. Several networks have changed owners since the last press tour: Disney acquired FX and National Geographic as part of March’s Disney-Fox deal, and then assumed full operational control over Hulu from Comcast in May. CBS bought out Lionsgate’s stake in Pop to become that network’s sole owner in March. The new owners have wasted no time in making waves—Disney is shutting down FX’s ad-free subscription service, FX+, while CBS helped Pop pick up One Day at a Time for a fourth season last month following Netflix’s cancellation.
FX and National Geographic had previously hinted at their tentative strategies under Disney, but this will be the first opportunity to discuss those plans now that the merger is official.
What are CBS and Viacom going to do?
Viacom is skipping press tour, but could still be responsible for some of the biggest TV headlines over the next few weeks. CBS and Viacom, which have held on-and-off merger talks for the past three years, have reportedly set a Aug. 8 target date to restart those discussions talks. That is not only the day that both companies are holding their earnings calls, but it also marks the conclusion of press tour. So even if CBS Corp. execs, as expected, don’t utter a word about Viacom during their press tour appearances, it’s quite possible that the “will they or won’t they” question will finally be answered by the time press tour wraps.
Can broadcasters find another hit?
Three broadcast networks brought in new broadcast chiefs last fall—ABC’s Karey Burke, Fox’s Charlie Collier, NBC’s George Cheeks and Paul Telegdy—and this will be their first chance to set their plans for an entire TV season. Among their top priorities will be finding a new series that can become a sensation the way The Masked Singer did last season (Fox smartly unveiled the details about that show and released its first bonkers trailer during last summer’s press tour.) Especially after The Big Bang Theory ended its run in May, broadcast sorely needs its next big hit—and press tour will be the best indication of if there’s one lurking among the new fall offerings.