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Fox Opts Out of Network TV’s Traditional Pilot Season

Rupert Murdoch’s Fox broadcast network will move to year-round development of television series, skipping the traditional pilot season in an approach that more closely resembles cable TV’s process.

The change means Fox will no longer participate in the annual TV-pilot process, Kevin Reilly, chairman of entertainment at 21st Century Fox Inc.’s Fox Broadcasting, said at a Television Critics Association meeting yesterday in Pasadena, California.

Each year at this time, the four major broadcast networks fund dozens of test episodes called pilots, choosing a handful to develop into series. The crunch creates competition for writers and talent, driving up prices and leading to projects of uneven quality that would improve if the process moved year-round, Reilly said.

“We’ve been trying to do away with pilot season for a long time at Fox,” Reilly told reporters. “The broadcast scheduling process was built for a different era when there were three networks that had a near monopoly. We don’t live in that age anymore.”

Cable networks introduce shows throughout the year, in contrast to the September-to-May schedule of broadcasters. Cable programmers also make decisions on series earlier in development, relying less on pilots.

Upfront Plans

Fox will still participate in television’s so-called upfront presentations to advertisers in May, where networks present new shows to marketers, Reilly said. He said the network is looking for more consistently good programming.

“I’m not making a declaration about the entire industry,” Reilly said. “I’m just saying this is what’s best for Fox and our talent.”

So far this season, Fox is averaging 6.94 million viewers a night, up 4.4 percent from a year ago, though last among the big four networks, according to Nielsen data.

In the 18-to-49-year-old age group that advertisers target, Fox is averaging 2.97 million viewers a night, down 2.3 percent from a year earlier and third place in the demographic.

Even with its fall from No. 1, Fox’s “American Idol” remained a potent draw on television last year. The Wednesday edition was the seventh most-watched regularly scheduled program on broadcast television in 2013, with an audience averaging 13.4 million a night, according to data from Nielsen. The Thursday show ranked ninth, with 13.1 million viewers.

21st Century Fox, controlled by Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Rupert Murdoch, fell 3.3 percent to $32.35 yesterday in New York. The shares have declined 8 percent in 2014.

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