Ampere: Delays of Scripted Content to Last Well Into 2021

Producers of new scripted content — which typically spends an average of 11 months in production — will be battling against COVID-related delays well into 2021, far longer than their unscripted counterparts, according to a study from Ampere Analysis.

While producers of new unscripted content — which spends an average of just two months in production — have been able to adapt production to the new circumstances, already overcoming the worst period of delays, the same is not true for their scripted counterparts, according to the analysis.

Compensating for the lack of new high-quality scripted content, unscripted commissions increased from 66% in Q2 2019 to 72% in Q2 2020. Reality shows benefitted the most from this trend with 24% more titles commissioned in Q2 2020 than in Q2 2019.

The temporary stop in production also forced programmers to air older and less popular content to fill gaps, and some have turned to unscripted material to pad their schedules, according to Ampere.

While the proportion of new content aired dropped steadily over Q1 and Q2 2020, unscripted content has already made a rapid recovery, with new titles representing a higher proportion of primetime series than before COVID-19. However, the proportion of new scripted primetime shows has yet to return to pre-COVID levels.

Meanwhile, linear viewers in the U.S. and U.K. rated comedy, crime and thriller, sport, drama, and sci-fi and fantasy as their top five genres in Q1 and Q2 2020 — the same period that saw a considerable decrease in the proportion of new titles aired for all five genres.

“At the time of writing, almost half of all scripted commissions from the first half of 2019 had yet to be released, highlighting the long production periods for scripted shows and the impact of exposure to the COVID-linked production hiatus,” Ampere stated. “As a consequence, delays for scripted titles ordered in the same period in 2020 — also exposed to the production shutdown — will run well into 2021.”

The firm noted BBC’s “Staged,” one of the few scripted drama titles to be produced during lockdown, has already been licensed in multiple markets, illustrating demand for fresh new scripted shows. The series, starring David Tennant and Michael Sheen, follows actors whose play has been put on hold due to COVID-19, but whose director has persuaded them to continue rehearsing online.

While the production of some scripted genres such as drama and romance can often be expedited, the ability to shorten the often lengthy post-production process for genres such as action and adventure, sci-fi and fantasy, and horror — while maintaining output quality — will be key to limiting the onward impact of the pandemic, the research firm stated. Programmers that can air the highest volume of new scripted content, through commissions or acquisitions, in the next 12 months will win over consumers, the firm concluded.

“COVID-19 has hit the production of high-quality, scripted content most severely, and producers will be fighting delays well into 2021,” said Ampere analyst Olivia Deane. “Linear programmers know that viewers won’t accept poor quality content and repeats indefinitely, and they will lose consumers to both broadcast and on-demand competitors if they don’t address the situation fast.

“This is particularly problematic for channels that offer a high proportion of original scripted content. To maintain a competitive edge, they will need to adjust their acquisition models to compete in the race to broadcast new, high-quality content. This suggests a time to shine for independent studios with scripted projects already in the pipeline. However, with indies facing their own delays, it’s likely that supply will be outweighed by demand for the foreseeable future.”