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Outwit. Outplay. Outlast. Network Chiefs 2011 – Luncheon Recap

Hollywood Radio & Television Society present: The Network Chiefs 2011.

24/7/365. We live and work in an always-on world where information is currency and spending is rapidly on the rise. How do you develop and program in an Anywhere, Anytime world? What must we do in order to survive and thrive?

On October 11, 2011, a packed house gathered inside the Beverly Hilton for an HRTS flagship event, the Network Chiefs. SURVIVOR host Jeff Probst returned to moderate a panel consisting of the heads of the five families: ABC’s Paul Lee, CBS’s Nina Tassler, FOX’s Kevin Reilly, NBC’s Jennifer Salke and The CW’s Mark Pedowitz.

HRTS Network Chiefs 2011: Jeff Probst

Jeff Probst

Probst noted that during lunch he and the panelists discussed how crazy this pitch season has been, and so his first question was about what changed this year versus last year. Reilly pointed to Lee and said “he got cash” then he pointed to Salke and said “they got competitive with that cash” and as for FOX “we took the bait”, noting that all of this is very good for agents. Tassler said that the competitive bidding situation “certainly ups the stakes but everybody brings their A-game” and Lee concurred, saying that right now is an exciting time since “there’s been a rush of energy, a lot of new ideas coming in, a lot of ambition, a lot of new people and that’s good for broadcast”.

HRTS Network Chiefs 2011: Nina Tassler

Nina Tassler

The rush of new ideas, people and information can be quite exhilarating and it requires quick changes and adaptations since as Tassler noted “the press in this business has gotten to the place where every single thing that happens at every moment of the day is reported” and that impacts everything that she and other executives do, and how they do it. Salke agreed, saying “you get the emails from the press as the guy’s still in the parking lot and so that adds to the frenzy of the competition”. As a result, Salke said that she tries “to move swiftly and aggressively to get the deal but not be insane”.

HRTS Network Chiefs 2011: Mark Pedowitz

Mark Pedowitz

With all the changes swirling around us, Probst asked Pedowitz for the view from 30 thousand feet, about whether this is a time of optimism and opportunity or a time of feeling threatened. Pedowitz said that “it’s a time of evolution”, adding that “you have to look at it as ‘how do we get paid for that?’ and ‘how do we find a better measurement system, one that’s more accurate?’” Reilly said that he feels optimistic and that “I’m genuinely excited in a way that maybe I wasn’t even a few years ago”. Past digital threats aside, this optimism stems primarily from the now-proven fact that “one thing is clear, our product does move across, it is the transmedia product” and so will continue to create value across many platforms going forward.

Looking to the horizon and specifically addressing the issue of advertising revenue, Pedowitz said that “I don’t believe that we’re going to stay with the world of four breaks, it’s not an economically viable model for any of us as broadcasters or program suppliers”, adding that we will one day see a world where audiences are willing to watch online shows that carry a full load of commercials.

HRTS Network Chiefs 2011: Paul Lee

Paul Lee

Since the world is moving quickly and the pace of change is accelerating, how can we accurately measure audiences wherever and whenever they may be? Probst pointed out that “right now there’s no way to know if the ratings are accurate or not” and so he asked the panelists if they want to know absolute numbers, even if those numbers might turn out to be lower than at present. Lee said that he would like more accurate measurements and that he’d “far prefer to have quicker numbers, to have the Live Plus Seven number come in at the end of seven days”. Tassler said that “the reality is that we all rely on Nielsen and we have to and will continue to do so, but no audience member should be uncounted”. Reilly concurred, adding that “data collection is going to be a very, very important thing in media companies” since “the fact that people are still filling out diaries in their living rooms is just insane to me”. Salke struck an optimistic note where ratings are concerned, saying that current measurements are generally accurate since “the higher numbers usually reflect the shows that I think are great and are capturing some sort of zeitgeist”.  

HRTS Network Chiefs 2011: Jennifer Salke

Jennifer Salke

Although there was a record $9.5 billion upfront this year, we cannot ignore the fact that the economy is continuing to perform poorly and so Probst asked how the economic climate influences the kinds of shows that are put on and how they fare. Lee said that the economy is “absolutely critical, I think it’s one of the reasons comedies are doing well”. Reilly concurred, further noting that “escapism is one of the primary functions of television and escapism takes many forms”. Salke said that “I think that people are into underdogs”, while Pedowitz sounded a cautionary note, since “when we start developing, we’re predicting a year out, so the economic background is in the background to us and we have to be very careful that we don’t predict too darkly”.

HRTS Network Chiefs 2011: Kevin Reilly

Kevin Reilly

In a discussion about moving to a year-round development and programming schedule, Tassler set the ball and Reilly spiked it, saying that “I do want to make my yearly pitch for this” since “the fact that we’re all still in lockstep and choreographed to the same cycle of a dance backing up from the upfront is stupid and highly inefficient and is not good for anybody in this room”. As a matter of efficiency, Lee agreed that “if we don’t have to cast 60 pilots at the same time, we can cast them better and spend longer getting it right”.

So, in order to survive and thrive should you outwit old business models? Outplay your competitors? Outlast the poor economy? The answer of course is “all of the above” since as Charles Darwin said, it is not the strongest of the species that will prosper but those most responsive to change.

Photos by Chyna Photography

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