Abernethy: Seamless Flow Can Boost Syndies

The CEO of Fox Television Stations moves to eliminate commercials and other interstitials between newscasts and syndicated shows in hopes of hanging on to more viewers.

Jack Abernethy has a new mission: Go for the flow.

The CEO of Fox Television Stations wants to eliminate commercials and other interstitials between newscasts and syndicated shows in hopes of hanging on to more viewers.

“Having seamless transitions between shows in linear TV is long overdue,” he says. “We should have done this 20 years ago.”

Abernethy is already cleaning out the clutter between local newscasts on the Fox stations and in the three Fox first-run syndication shows – 25 Words or Less, Dish Nationl and Divorce Court.

And yesterday, he and Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution announced renewals of four shows that are conditioned on Warner Bros. reformatting to the shows for seamless transitions.

The four shows: Extra with Billy Bush, which will be back through the 2022-23 seasons; TMZ and TMZ Live, which got another three seasons; and The Real, which earned two more seasons.

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Persuading Warner Bros. to join the effort was not difficult, Abernethy says. “After a fairly short conversation, they said ‘we are in.’ They were very good about it because they saw the value of it to their shows.”

The reformatting does not affect the commercial loads and should be revenue neutral. It simply involves shifting commercial time at the end of show — typically three 30-second spots — into the middle of the shows.

Abernethy says he hopes the reformatted Warner Bros. shows will be ready to go in early December.

Seamless transitions are common in cable, but still much too rare in broadcasting, Abernethy says. He says he recently noticed how proficient cable news networks have become at it. “You don’t know where one show ends and another begins.”

The campaign is based not on research, but on common sense, Abernethy says.

Viewers are mostly likely to switch channels at the end of a show, he says. “Don’t give them a signal — the show’s over, you don’t know what’s happening next, grab the remote.”

Abernethy says he is working on getting other syndicators on board. If everybody does it, everybody wins. “It will be good for the industry, but nobody in particular.”

Some distributors may be reluctant to give up the end breaks because it doesn’t help their own shows, but the shows that follows them. “That’s where we come in,” Abernethy says. “We will get the show [that airs] before you to do it.”

It’s not just commercials that Abernethy has in his sights. He also wants to eliminate the “vanity” or branding slides that syndication producers and distributors slip into the transitions.

Abernethy’s opposition to show-ending interstitials is not absolute. In fact, he says, he is trying to work with the studios to get talent of shows to record two- or three-second promos for all other shows that might follow it.

For instance, he says, Billy Bush of Extra would record “Up next, The Real, “Up Next, TMZ” and others. Stations would plug them in where appropriate.

Working with Abernethy on the campaign is the Fox Stations programming chief Frank Cicha. He says that they are pitching Sony, Debmar-Mercury, CBS and others. “Whether people are all in, we will see. But getting Warner Bros. on board with us early is an important step.”


Comments (5)

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TVGenMgr says:

November 5, 2019 at 8:18 am

This isn’t new. Stations have been doing this for years. All you need is a decent traffic department and automation system. I guess the big difference here would be shows carried live.

RustbeltAlumnus2 says:

November 5, 2019 at 8:45 am

I would argue that it ONLY mattered 20 years ago. My U-verse DVR is how I watch Jeopardy nowadays and the right-curved arrow key on the remote control is how I skip-30 to get past the commercials and other time-killers (such as the contestant interviews). Linear is so 20th century. I have better things to do with my limited viewing time than watch ads.

wolfiefourseven says:

November 5, 2019 at 10:15 am

Both TVGM and RBA2 are right on target. Seamless was a big deal in the early 90’s and was a strategy employed at that time by the Fox O&O’s. I worked with traffic and the GM to implement seamless programming at the Dallas Fox owned station which at that time was KDAF. We used seamless flow at Orlando’s WOFL where it was a key element making that station a strong independent, and then a strong Fox affiliate. Unfortunately over the years seamless gave way to advertiser separation demands and companies willing to allow outsiders to determine content structure. I applaud Mr. Abernathy for doing something that not only is a smart strategic move, but is also a pure viewer benefit. Returning to a full, clean sweep across the top and bottom of each hour, and redefining and limiting separation commitments will go a long way to clean up the ad clutter that damages audience development. But one without the other will not necessarily work.

Kathy Haley says:

November 5, 2019 at 12:09 pm

This is an excellent idea. How many reruns of SVU have I watched, that I would not have watched, had I not been completely hooked by the start of a new episode? Seamless transitions between syndicated shows and newscasts can be done carefully to lead the audience into the newscast. And couldn’t the promotional consideration bumpers run in a black rail to the left of the screen, the way many shows do as they transition?

RIDGELINE-TV says:

November 5, 2019 at 10:46 pm

As a fellow I consider a mentor in the television business pointed out long ago, when you’re at the theater, hardly anyone stays and watches the movie credits. Similar with television, he pointed out. If there are ads at the end of programs, people tune to another channel or get up and do something else. Ads go inside your programming as much as possible, not between shows (of course, sometimes that’s easier said than done.)


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