With fall television shows premiering, it was a good time for the Hollywood Radio and Television Society (HRTS) to check in on the state of the industry with its first newsmaker luncheon series of the season.
The panel discussion took place Sept. 24 at the Beverly Hilton’s International Ballroom with John Landgraf, Chris Silbermann, Kathy Savitt, Gail Berman and Kevin Beggs weighing in on questions posed by moderator Ben Grossman.
The first topic on the table — the changes in the business over the past year.
“Quality content is the game. It has the power to break through the clutter and rise to the top,” said Silbermann, founding partner of ICM Partners. “Even with the amount of marketing dollars it’s hard to get attention, and with the number of distribution channels there’s still a finite group of talented people. Audiences just want quality. We’re looking at film and television as one big business. Everyone is a buyer.”
Linear television networks are still the dominant buyers in the viewpoint of Landgraf, CEO of FX Networks and FX Productions, but he sees big changes in the future.
“The technical infrastructure of satellite, cable and telco probably won’t exist in 50 years,” he said. “We are asking, where do channels and brands exist in the Internet space? To advertisers, there are 40 to 50 channels that have meaningful reach. Google is the dominant gatekeeper, but there are 50 to 60 others. In an odd sense, the economics of Google don’t work for creative. We nurture creators’ work and pay them well. We’re looking to reinvent what we do for the future.”
For Savitt, CMO and head of media for Yahoo, the focus is on consumers. “There’s a connective tissue between creative and audiences,” she said. “We’re here to enable you. Let us help you find audiences beyond the confines of the television screen.”
Yahoo has done just that by recently announcing it will bring a sixth season of the comedy “Community” to online audiences after the show was canceled in May by NBC.
“It’s an amazing time for content creators,” said Berman, chairman and CEO of the Jackal Group. “If you look at distribution ubiquity, creators are valuable. The problem is how to monetize the content. With ‘Community,’ NBC spent a lot of money developing and marketing the show, but now it’s up to Yahoo to figure it out in its second life. I look at it as an incredible opportunity, but it comes with enormous complications and challenges. I see content as a way forward, as it always is.”
Beggs, the chairman of Lionsgate Television Group, reflected on the evolution of his company, which produces a number of shows including “Mad Men,” “Orange Is the New Black” and “Nashville.”
“At the beginning, it was challenging to get a seat at any table — TNT, USA or AMC,” he said, naming a few outlets where his company pitched programs. “Now, we look at what place would be the right home, economically, creatively and for longevity. We spend most of our time navigating this.”
“It’s a valid measure of success — how many quality series begin and end and are profitable,” Landgraf added. “It’s great that the industry has 50 buyers. You make a show, pick it up and thus [are] going to know if you’re making profits. With 1,000 channels, it’s too many to pay back-end models. I’m hoping it will be an optimal number. The creative talent has to get paid. It’s about Americans being the greatest storytellers on Earth.”
The conversation turned to ratings and specifically how digital platforms like Netflix — now a major player in the original content space — don’t release them.
“With Nielsen, there was a tacit agreement we were playing by the same rules,” said Berman, who formerly was entertainment president of Fox Broadcasting Company. “It would be nice if everyone were playing by the same rules. But the media has allowed this to continue.”
“I think Netflix will be held accountable. People are willing to give them a break because it’s a startup, but that won’t last forever,” said Landgraf.
“We will develop models that go beyond syndication,” said Savitt. “For ‘Community,’ we will release a full panel of metrics to advertisers.” Yet she stopped short of saying that ratings would be publicly released.
Berman said most entities are acknowledging Live + 3 ratings but noted that timeshifted viewing is a problem for time-sensitive commercials like movie ads. “Broadcast still delivers a huge audience. It’s incredibly encouraging. You want to watch and talk about it tomorrow,” she said.
“Broadcasters are releasing projected Live + 7 numbers,” said Landgraf. “It’s a mismatch between consumption and measuring it. They’ll figure it out, maybe in 5 to 10 years.”