Attack of the Prime-Time Game Shows

Networks Return to an Old Weapon in Battle Against New Competitors

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The game is on at broadcast TV networks, which are adding game shows back to prime-time.

'Hollywood Game Night' on NBC
'Hollywood Game Night' on NBC

NBC in particular seems eager to play, with four high-stakes game shows now running or coming this fall.

The peacock network's summer schedule includes "Hollywood Game Night," a comedic game show from Sean Hayes and hosted by Jane Lynch, pairing contestants with celebrities to win prizes. It is also airing "The Winner Is…," a singing game show hosted by Nick Lachey where contestants compete to win $1 million. And earlier this month it picked up "Wall of Fame" from Endemol USA for eight episodes of families competing on pop-culture trivia.

But its biggest investment in the genre will come this fall with "Million Second Quiz," a live 24-hour show that invites viewers to play along. Ryan Seacrest is reportedly close to signing a deal to serve as host.

Fox, meanwhile, has ordered a pilot for "Step Up," another game show from Endemol USA. The format will see contestants win money by stepping on squares that have hidden dollar amounts underneath and trying to avoid the ones that could send them home with nothing.

ABC, for its part, introduced "Bet on Your Baby," which asks parents in the studio to guess how their babies will do at mild challenges in a room called "The Babydome."

The new shows come as broadcasters increase their investment in original programming to better combat rising cable and streaming competition. While reality shows are a cost-effective alternative to scripted series, game shows give networks another option.

Not incidentally, they also appeal to marketers. "There's a lot of money that can go to internal sponsorships and sponsor prizes," said Billie Gold, VP of research and programming, Carat. "Advertisers can integrate easily and there are very short lead times."

NBC isn't specifically upping its investment in game shows, according to Paul Telegy, president of alternative and late-night programming. But the format offers an extremely good business model that can really take off when a show hits, he said.

"These are family-friendly shows, with a G-rating, which is a good thing for broadcast TV," Mr. Telegy said. "Production costs are low and it is a high revenue business. There's money in doing these things."

Live elements also give broadcast viewers an experience that streaming services still can't match. "Million Second Quiz" will let viewers to play along in real time, with the potential of appearing on the show. Play will also continue around the clock even when the show is not on the air, rewarding viewer-players the more they participate.

'Million Second Quiz' will ask viewers to play along live
'Million Second Quiz' will ask viewers to play along live

"Live is what broadcast does differently than cable and Netflix," Mr. Telegy said. "If they miss it they won't be a part of the conversation. Broadcasts' strongest hand it can play is live TV."

The potential for social media interaction is another lure for marketers, which increasingly want more active ways to engage with viewers, according to Scott Schiller, exec VP-digital advertising sales, NBC Universal.

There hasn't been a runaway game show in prime-time since "Deal or No Deal," which began on NBC in 2005. At its peak, Endemol was delivering 70 hours per year of "Deal or No Deal," and NBC was still asking for more, said David Goldberg, CEO of Endemol USA. That may not happen again, but networks have new motivation to find a similar win.

"Networks are asking, how do we deliver more bang for the buck," said Mr. Goldberg said. "There's a desire for lower-cost programming and game shows fit perfectly in that category."

"Hollywood Game Night" drew 3.9 million viewers in its most recent episode and won its time slot in the 18-to-49 demo. "The Winner Is..." also brought in 3.9 million viewers to last week's episode.

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