Winter: Now Cable’s Hot Season

Winter: Now Cable’s Hot Season
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The weather outside might be frightful, but for cable networks launching new and returning series, January is delightful.

More than 25 reality series and scripted shows — nearly a dozen of which are new — will launch a new season next month. Cable networks are looking to capitalize on increased audience numbers as winter weather keeps viewers at home and watching television, according to network executives.

“January has become the new July,” Mark Stern, Syfy’s president of original content, said.

For cable networks, first-quarter 2013 is shaping up to be as fertile a period for the debut of new content as the summer months have been over the past decade. From June to September, cable networks have taken advantage of the repeat programming offered by the broadcast networks to launch their new shows. But until recently, cable programmers shied away from competing directly with broadcast networks during the early winter, when the Big Four roll out new episodes of their most popular shows.

But given cable’s continued viewership and share dominance over the broadcast networks — ad-supported cable in 2012 is projected to generate 67% household share, compared to 33% for the broadcast networks — Lifetime executive vice president of programming Rob Sharenow said the industry is no longer wary of putting its best programming against the broadcast networks during the winter months, particularly in January.

Lifetime next month returns three new shows — including its popular Dance Moms reality series on New Year’s Day — and bows two new nonfiction series, Double Divas and Teen Trouble.

“Cable companies used to target the summer because it was counter to the broadcasters, but I think the softening of the broadcast competition has really opened up a lot of possibilities,” he said. “I don’t think cable networks feel bound to do that anymore.

“Traditionally, winter and January are high-viewing months, so I think everyone is taking advantage of a time when everyone is watching TV, with less fear that the broadcasters have all the eyeballs,” Sharenow said.

To be competitive during the winter, Syfy’s Stern said that cable networks need to not only lead with their best programming but structure their schedules to offer viewers similar content that keeps them watching more than one show at a time. For example, Syfy will return two of its original scripted series, Being Human and Lost Girl, in a Monday-night block. Competition series Total Blackout and Face Off will resume on Tuesday nights.

“You have to put together a slate that complements each other so that hopefully you’re bringing them in to watch one thing, and they’re staying around to watch some of the other things,” he said.

Despite the broadcast and cable competition, Lifetime’s Sharenow is not worried about getting the network’s message about its shows across to its core female viewers.

“We have confidence in our shows, and we’re being very strategic in launching our new shows with our returning shows,” he said. “It’s a way of putting all of your original eggs in one basket to make it a more appealing offering to our viewers.”

Added Stern: “This is a very competitive landscape and it’s getting more and more competitive as more networks move into the [sci-fi and thriller] genre, but the only thing we can do about that is to be better than them.”