Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Here we go again

I'm sure it's a good show, but almost no one has seen Ted Lasso.
Almost everyone has, however, heard of it because Apple has spent a mind-boggling amount on marketing and particularly PR. 

If this all sounds a bit familiar (modest and quirky feel-good, fish-out-of-water show from a comedy veteran dominates the Emmys), it might be because you're a regular here at the blog. 


I have to admit, it’s kind of a pleasant change to be making fun of trivial things again…

And you don’t get much more trivial than the Emmys.

First off, any show with Eugene Levy or Catherine O’Hara is doing god’s work and having the two work together is going above and beyond. I haven’t gotten around to Schitt’s Creek yet, but I have no doubt it’s a deserving show which certainly makes this a feel good ending:
In 2020, the sixth and final season was nominated for 15 Primetime Emmy Awards. This broke the record for the most Emmy nominations given to a comedy in its final season. During the 2020 Emmys, the show became the first-ever comedy or drama series to sweep the four acting categories (Outstanding Lead Actor, Outstanding Lead Actress, Outstanding Supporting Actor, Outstanding Supporting Actress) and one of only four live action shows, along with All in the Family, The Golden Girls, and Will & Grace where all the principal actors have won at least one Emmy Award.

If anything, this understates how unprecedented the sweep is. If you look at the other shows mentioned here (All in the Family, The Golden Girls, and Will & Grace), you’ll see that they had Emmy wins or nominations every year they ran. Schitt’s Creek had never won a single statue before this year. Until 2019 (note that date), it hadn’t even gotten a nomination. The Television Academy is notorious for playing favorites. To go from nonentity to “honor just to be nominated” to powerhouse in two years goes against the industry’s laws of nature.

The sudden rise in popularity is often credited to a “Netflix bump” from when the streaming service picked it up in January of 2017 (another date to note). Left out of almost all reporting on these bumps is the role of marketing and PR. Netflix spends billions a year on promotion and while it prioritizes its “originals” (which brings up other interesting points), it still has enough for some fairly generous “Now on Netflix” campaigns.

That said, shows getting a ratings boost from syndication has been a recognized and well-documented phenomenon since the business model was established in the seventies. There’s no question that Schitt’s Creek got a bump, but just how big was it? Though not perfect, Google trends can provide a pretty good picture of the interest in a show.

Post-Netflix numbers were certainly better but after settling down, they remained relatively flat for well over a year then, around the fourth quarter of 2018, at which point they started a remarkable climb. On a related note
In [May] 2018, Debmar-Mercury, a division of Lionsgate, acquired the U.S. syndication rights to Schitt's Creek. The series is scheduled to debut in syndication on Fox Television Stations throughout the U.S. during the Fall 2020 television season. The series is also began airing reruns of series on Comedy Central on October 2, 2020.

Despite its low cool factor, television syndication remains a tremendously lucrative business. For a fairly obscure cable/Canadian show like Schitt’s Creek, awards and media buzz can greatly increase marketability. It would be shocking if Lionsgate, a company with billions in revenue and a substantial PR budget, didn’t launch a major campaign and, given the Q2 acquisition and time to plan the campaign, we’d expect the money to start flowing in October, 2018.

In 2020, this PR push was followed by an aggressive Emmy campaign.

I don’t want to get carried away – this is just one metric (a noisy one at that) and some anecdotes – but the standard narrative (check this Vanity Fair piece for an example that adheres strictly to the form) doesn’t really fit we we see here, neither with the Netflix bump nor with finding an audience. Instead, we have another example of how PR departments shape things like awards and media coverage, and unfortunately not just on trivial matters.

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