Broadcasters Increasingly Taking an OTT Approach to Programming

LONDON—Broadcast television networks are less likely to use “pilot” episodes to introduce new TV series, according to a report from Ampere, which compares the trend to OTT.

CBSAccess' "Star Trek: Discovery"

CBSAccess' "Star Trek: Discovery"

“The number of pilots ordered by U.S. broadcasters has decreased by one third (32%) over the last four years, dropping from 106 titles a year in 2015 to just 73 titles by 2019, despite the same number of new series being produced,” the research firm said. “Although the number of pilots has fallen, the proportion progressing to series has remained consistent, at 45%. U.S. networks seem to be adopting the strategies of the SVoD players where pilots are used far less, if at all.”

Although the trend has stabilized within the past year, Ampere researcher Fred Black thinks networks are adopting a variety of different strategies to make sure their programming can better compete with Netflix and Hulu.

“There’s no one model that the networks have adopted as they move away from pilots, rather they have opted for a range of development options, including reboots and spin-offs, co-production, remakes and straight to series,” he said.

In conclusion, it’s a combination of increasing production costs and the growing popularity of rebooted series—which don’t need pilots—that Ampere think are the overall reasons for the trend.

Drama series had the lowest number of pilots while comedies average the highest number of pilots, at 35 per season. The most successful genre in terms of pilots leading to series is crime and thriller; sci-fi is the worst performer in this category.

ABC is the leading proponent of using pilots, Ampere said.

Tom Butts

Tom has covered the broadcast technology market for the past 25 years, including three years handling member communications for the National Association of Broadcasters followed by a year as editor of Video Technology News and DTV Business executive newsletters for Phillips Publishing. In 1999 he launched for internet B2B portal Verticalnet. He is also a charter member of the CTA's Academy of Digital TV Pioneers. Since 2001, he has been editor-in-chief of TV Tech (, the leading source of news and information on broadcast and related media technology and is a frequent contributor and moderator to the brand’s Tech Leadership events.