A very Brady upfront

Even in this aging of growing digital consumption this groovy linear bunch still resonates.

Considering the biggest thing at the recent Discovery upfront presentation (or anything else on cable for that matter, so far) was the appearance of the six Brady kids – Barry Williams (Greg), Maureen McCormick (Marcia), Christopher Knight (Peter), Eve Plumb (Jan), Mike Lookinland (Bobby) and Susan Olsen (Cindy) – I still have to believe content consumption, even in this age of rapidly growing digital expansion, is still very much about watching television on television.

Discovery was big news last year because it featured, for the first time, the addition of the Scripps Networks. Combined, this now includes Discovery Channel, TLC, Investigation Discovery, OWN, Animal Planet, Science, the Motor Trend Group, HGTV, Food Network, Travel Channel, DIY and Cooking Channel.

"If you put all these networks together we are a different kind of media company," crowed Discovery CEO David Zaslav at the time. "We don’t have viewers; we have fans…passionate fans that love our characters, love our brands, and they don’t tune in for shows. They tune in for a brand that gets them."

This year, the emphasis at the Discovery presentation – aside of upcoming HGTV series "A Very Brady Renovation" -- was on the rebranding of the DIY Network to a new unnamed lifestyle channel led by former "Fixer Upper" hosts Chip and Joanna Gaines. "We will present stories that help us lean in and stand out," said Chip Gaines.  "We want to build bridges and communities."

Then, of course, were those groovy aging Bradys, who almost 50 years after debuting on ABC, demonstrate why the linear model still matters. Considering how Netflix rebooted that other classic family sitcom, "Full House," into "Fuller House" to build its subscriber base, I am surprised one of the streamers did not approach these Bradys first.

What I am also wondering about is why there seems to be a shortage of so many of the cable networks presenting their shtick this year. Are they throwing the proverbial towel in based on the rapid rise of digital? Does this have anything to do with the ongoing standoff between the Writers Guild of America (WGA) and the Association of Talent Agents (ATA), which could change how this business is conducted, potentially negatively impacting the newer generation of writers not firmly established?

While I will squelch that second point because I do believe this will be resolved, the lower and mid-level writers who depend on their agents for jobs and for negotiating their writer fees above guild minimums – mainly the staff writers and executive story editors, according to reports – are the ones likely at risk. And in this era of "Peak TV," where the rise in original scripted product means a greater need for these new voices, a disruption in the traditional pattern, at this pivotal time of the broadcasting year, could have negative consequences."

Of course, the recent announcement of Disney streaming service Disney Plus, a digital platform created to challenge Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime and other streamers has gutted the recent news feeds. For $6.99 per month (initially), an estimated 7,000 episodes of television series and 400 to 500 movies are expected to be available when the service launches next November. Among the content will be original content tied to Disney’s Marvel, "Star Wars," Pixar and other Disney-specific product, all under the guise of a family-friendly umbrella.

Smack in the middle of this Disney Plus brouhaha (which will also rival Apple’s upcoming streaming service), Netflix has reported close to 10 million new subscribers in first quarter of this year, most are which from international territories. This makes this the "highest quarterly paid net adds," according to Netflix CEO Reed Hastings.

"We believe we will all continue to grow as we each invest more in content and improve our service and as consumers continue to migrate away from linear viewing (similar to how US cable networks collectively grew for years as viewing shifted from broadcast networks during the 1980s and 1990s)," said Hastings in a letter reporting the streamers’ quarterly earnings).

While I do agree that more viewers, particularly the millennial generation, will focus on digital consumption, I also think the linear model will offer opportunities to the millennial generation as they age and start families of their own. I do believe that the older viewers (think 50+) are about to abandon television anytime soon. And I don’t believe for one second that the 29.3 million viewers, on average, currently watching the five broadcast networks (ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox and The CW) this season (through April 14) is something to be ignored.

Even as these digital outlets continue to expand at a rapid rate, that 29.3 million-viewer figure is only a 6 percent loss from the comparable year-ago period. So, instead of predicting the demise of linear television, the password this season, and into the future, is "expansion." And I do think, at some point, the rapid rise of these digital streamers (a la the early days of cable) will eventually cap off.

If anything, the mention by Reed Hastings of Netflix how viewers shifted from network to cable in those earlier years suggests that these broadcast networks will survive the digital onslaught.

As for that bunch called Brady, naturally there will be sampling…and a great deal of it – for "A Very Brady Renovation." And chances are HGTV has something else up their sleeve for them. Could "Cousin Oliver" be the next to make a comeback? 

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