Remember those carefree summer days of yore, running around the yard, catching fireflies, sleeping in, smelling like chlorine.
Chances are your memories don’t involve television.
That’s because summer was traditionally rerun time for the TV industry. Everything and everyone was on hiatus. Prime time was turned over to reruns, a time when fans could catch up on the episodes they’d missed (this was before DVRs) or, more likely, rewatch one of their favorites. (This was particularly true back then, as the notion of season-long story arcs that depended on the viewer having watched the previous episodes had not yet been invented, and individual episodes stood on their own.)
Those sorts of summers are officially over now, at least where the television industry is concerned. Summer is now a season for experimentation and for introducing new shows that the networks want to try out, a bit removed from the limelight.
The trend can be attributed to CBS, of all places. In 2013, CBS ran the first season of a limited edition series called “Under The Dome.” Based on a Stephen King novel, “Under The Dome” was unique in that the series ran on CBS with commercials on Monday nights, and then on Amazon, commercial-free on Fridays.
The one-two punch seemed to have connected with consumers, and “Under The Dome” was an unexpected ratings hit. This encouraged other networks to look to summer as a time to give unconventional series a shot. The theory was that the less cluttered atmosphere (most first-run series were on hiatus) would allow fans to find these new shows and give them a shot.
USA Network had great success with this theory in summer 2015 with their breakout hit “Mr. Robot.” The series, which was supported by an unconventional, multi-level marketing campaign (see TVREV’s analysis here) generated a great deal of buzz that summer, and ratings took off as word of mouth about the show spread. The result has been several nominations thus far, from the Golden Globes, the Screen Actors Guild and the Writers Guild of America, with possible Emmys nominations still to come.
This summer, we can expect to see a number of networks trying to replicate USA’s success. With 409 original series vying for attention, it just makes sense for networks to use the summer months to bring new series to light. They need to go into it with the same expectation USA Network had—overnight and C3 ratings are far less important than long tail “C3-months” ratings that lead to buzz and a much stronger season two. It’s Ted Sarandos’s notion of viewing the entire first season as the pilot episode.
Brands should look to take advantage of these summer shows by getting in early on sponsorship opportunities. Summer shows offer a chance to become a “patron” of a show before it becomes a breakout hit, creating a strong connection with fans and possibly even integrating into the story line. Summer shows also offer brands the opportunity to get their messages out with less clutter and to forge a tighter bond with consumers.
It might not be as nostalgic as chlorine and fireflies, but it’s an effective strategy for summer in the digital age.