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Execs debate issues at TCA

Jul 22, 2002  •  Post A Comment

Despite the robust upfront advertising market for all, broadcast network executives appearing at the Television Critics Association press tour, still under way in Pasadena, Calif., could not resist taking their usual pot shots at each other last week and openly debating the merits of product placement, cable repurposing and digitized personal video recorders.
At times, it seemed the new shows they came to talk about took a back seat.
During the Turner Networks and WB presentations, Turner Broadcasting Chairman Jamie Kellner stirred a debate on the growing encroachment of personal video recorders, with which services such as TiVo and Replay allow viewers to “skip” through commercial advertising. Mr. Kellner likened potential revenue losses from zapped commercials and the disk storage of copyrighted programming to the already massive losses wracking the music industry.
Although he estimated just under 1 million households (or less than 1 percent of the total TV universe) use PVR devices on a regular basis, Mr. Kellner warned that PVRs could present a “real threat” to the TV industry within the next five to 10 years. He estimated that the skipping of commercials could translate to a future cost to U.S. consumers of up to $250 per household annually through cable subscriber fee increases or conversion of advertiser-supported basic cable networks to pay services.
“Given the opportunity to skip through entire commercial and promotional pods during a network break, I think a large number of consumers would do it, even though the number is not large right now,” said Mr. Kellner, who estimated that around 70 percent of PVR users currently zap through commercials.
During UPN’s portion of TCA, CBS Television Network President and CEO Leslie Moonves vehemently disagreed with Mr. Kellner’s assessment.
“Unlike Jamie Kellner, I’m not going to declare to you this is the death of broadcast television,” Mr. Moonves said. “The penetration of TiVo has not been as great as people thought. We are anticipating it eventually will be, but like the VCR … like every other new form of entertainment, it may not have quite the same effect as people think it will.”
CBS research head David Poltrack later cited internal research that indicates that even if PVR penetration were to reach 25 percent of U.S. households in the next 10 years, there would be only a 7 percent “net reduction in commercial viewing.”
Still, with the broadcast networks already mindful of PVR zapping, Mr. Moonves is carefully weighing other limited product placement opportunities. While CBS has been aggressive in doing product placement deals for its “Survivor” and “Amazing Race” reality series-and once tinkered with “virtual” placements in “Everybody Loves Raymond’s” off-network syndication run-he is loath to do it with scripted dramas.
“`CSI’ is a tougher show to have product placement on than `Everybody Loves Raymond,”’ Mr. Moonves said. “How do you do an autopsy and have a Diet Coke next to it?”
Contrary to the concern over inserting product placement in dramas, ABC programmers Lloyd Braun and Susan Lyne said two “major” sponsors (and possibly up to three) have signed tie-in deals for next fall’s launch of the hybrid mystery/treasure hunt series “Push, Nevada.”
And while repurposing of broadcast series is becoming a dirty word for the broadcast networks, Mr. Braun and Ms. Lyne said those tie-in advertisers will be getting more value out of a secondary cable window for “Push, Nevada” on the ABC Family Channel next season.
The new mantra at ABC is “repurposing with a purpose,” said Mr. Braun, chairman of ABC Entertainment Television Group.
Mr. Braun and Ms. Lyne, who is president of ABC Entertainment, said a number of high-profile dramas, such as ABC’s “Once and Again” and Fox’s “24,” did not hold up well in repeats on the cable networks. So the plan is to add new “hints” and edit in other elements and interactive content to a repurposed run of “Push, Nevada.”