Exec Panelists Assess State of TV Industry at HRTS Newsmaker Luncheon

Jun 7, 2005  •  Post A Comment

Those celebrating the fact network TV held its own last season, after years of declining audiences, should not read too much into that rebound, because there are still tremendous challenges ahead due to “hyper-fragmentation,” which will mean more outlets, more shows and more choices for viewers and an even more diluted marketplace for networks and advertisers.

Those were among the points made by panelists at the Hollywood Radio & Television Society Newsmaker annual “The State of the Industry” luncheon, which was presented in Beverly Hills, Calif., on Tuesday. For the first time it was held in association with the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences.

Moderator Gavin Palone, producer and founder of Pariah Productions, laid down the gantlet at the very beginning when he said that even if the network audience didn’t shrink again last year, the networks are still are facing very challenging times due to increased competition and technological change. He accompanied his remarks with a graphic set to rock music that repeated the message “The coming television apocalypse.”

Mr. Palone suggested that the music business, which has gone through a painful restructuring, might be a model for what television is going through. “The proliferation of digital video recorders, an increase in the number of program choices, less audience for each channel is going to create financial bankruptcies,” Mr. Palone told the industry audience. “Enjoy your chicken.”

The panel members were not as pessimistic but conceded things are changing. William Cella, chairman and CEO of Magna Global Worldwide, said his clients are looking to embed brands into shows through product integration deals. He said the creative content of the average 30-second spot costs about $400,000 and the client and agency must make sure that message is seen, even if it means a different approach. “It’s not going away,” Mr. Cella said, referring to 30-second spots. “It’s only going to become more pronounced.”

Mark Pedowitz, president of Touchstone Television, called for more experimentation with programming and product integration that addresses ad skipping as the DVR becomes more widespread.

Kevin Reilly, president of NBC Entertainment, said it is crucial to develop better programming that goes beyond the old models and disposable shows of the past when “75 percent of television was ‘My Mother the Car.'” He added that in the future the networks will have to think about how to deliver compelling content that crosses from broadcast to cable to the Internet and beyond.

Rich Frank, chairman of The Firm and former head of TV at The Walt Disney Co., said the biggest challenge will be in scripted programming. He said product integration is already working well in nonfiction or reality TV. “It has to be developed,” said Mr. Frank, “to be used properly. …It has to evolve, but the 30-second spot is not going away.”

Ken Ziffren, a partner in the law firm Ziffren, Brittenham, Branca, Fischer, Gilbert-Lurie, Stiffelman & Cook, said the survival of the networks and their parent conglomerates will depend on whether they can “keep up with the technology and advances as fast as they continue to advance,”

Daniel York, executive VP of programming for SBC Communications, said his company believes its new video offerings, tied in a bundle with voice and data services, will offer customers a new platform. He said SBC will use IPTV, which is television delivered over an Internet system, that will offer broadband with more choices in programming and technical advances, such as high-definition imaging.