Last week we discussed selling a feature film to TV; so today we’ll focus on the process of selling a TV series. Over the last several months, I have been involved with developing a few TV series. While I will share specific information on the shows as it becomes appropriate to do so, this article will focus on a handful of key elements the current TV marketplace expects producers to have in place before a deal gets done.  Thus, consider the following elements as being “vital tube essentials.”

Find A Home Interested In Renting Your Show A Room
Outside of ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox, HBO and Showtime, very few networks, cable or satellite channels have enough money to fund the production costs of their TV shows. Thus, in lieu of providing a healthy amount of cash, they offer airtime. The first key to finding a home for your TV show is to find a place that is willing to carve out airtime in their schedule for your show.

Once interested, the network, cable or satellite channel will provide you with all of their specs; including their audience reach (i.e. how many millions of households is their potential reach) as well as the viewers’ demographics and spending patterns. They may also provide you with their Nielsen ratings. These facts and figures are what you are going to need in order to present your show to sponsors (advertisers) for the purpose of having them commit to buying advertising on your show.

Secure Sponsors
Securing sponsors is a crucial step in getting a TV series sold, because without sponsors the show simply won’t be put on air. In fact, no TV show ever finds a home without sponsors. Thus, without commercials, there would be no TV shows. There are three keys to finding the right sponsor:

  1. Know your shows specs (ratings, demographics, etc).
    While you won’t have ratings before your show is on the air, assembling the ratings’ performance from similar shows will help sponsors project your show’s potential reach.

    Secondly, understanding the demographics of your viewing audience (age, income level, ethnicity) will not only give your sponsors a clear understanding of who they’re advertising to, but it may also influence how your show is written and cast.

  2. Know the other shows your sponsor pays for.
    The television industry is a creature of habit, meaning once a format works, it’s duplicated time and time again. Since sponsors usually have no problem investing in like-minded TV shows, do not be discouraged if you find that your potential sponsor has bought airtime on a show similar to yours. Advertisers love repeating what works. Hell, look at the “Energizer Bunny.” That little battery operated spokes bunny has been going, and going and going since 1989.
  3. Price your sponsorship package appropriately.
    A reasonably priced sponsorship package for a show on a well-watched network, satellite or cable channel, will usually always sell. However, overpricing your package may make sponsors believe the price to advertise on your show is greater than the reach the show may get them. Thus, make sure you consult media experts in order to price your sponsorship package in a tantalizing and delicious range for sponsors.

Lock In A Quality Time Slot
One of the most daunting obstacles on the road to selling your show is securing your weekly time slot. Simply put, sponsors will pay far more for an 8 PM prime time weekday show than they will for one that airs at 8 AM Saturday morning. However, the networks/cable stations /satellite channels won’t guarantee you a quality time slot (especially a prime time slot) until you have sponsors willing to pay for your show. It’s a conundrum that may trigger hours, days and weeks of stress, but rest assured that if your show garners interest from both the sponsors and the entity where you’ll ultimately air it, a healthy deal will most probably be struck.

Make A “Sizzle Reel” – Not A Full Pilot – To Sell Your Show
One of the most costly and time-consuming mistakes made is to produce an independent pilot. That’s right; producing a pilot is not at good idea. No matter how amazingly moving, funny, dramatic and wonderfully perfect you think your pilot may be; there is a very high probability it will never air as-is. This is because most TV executives will find at least a few things they would like changed in your show, as will sponsors. Thus, instead of draining your life savings to make a broadcast quality pilot and hope the powers that be love it, you should make a two to four minute “sizzle reel” that gives a glimpse into what your show will look like. Doing so will allow TV executives and sponsors to be more involved in shaping the show they’re willing to get behind. This way you can have the sponsors pay for your pilot (and the entire show) and you won’t have to deal with the frustration of having to do your pilot all over again and never recouping the hard earned money you spent on doing your version of the pilot.

In closing, the above “vital tube essentials” may not be all one needs to sell a TV series, but in the current marketplace, they certainly can’t be done without.

Thank you for lending me your eyes, and I look forward to borrowing them again next Tuesday.

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