It’s About Time – State of Broadcast 2012 luncheon recap
On November 28, 2012, a packed house gathered inside the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza for the inaugural event of the 2012-13 HRTS Newsmaker Luncheon series, the State of Broadcast.
It’s an oft-repeated truth that the television business is in the midst of rapid and accelerating change, where both opportunities and dangers abound. As Charles Darwin said, it is not the strongest of the species that survive but rather those most responsive to change. With change being a constant in today’s industry, with change being demanded at an ever-increasing pace, it seems clear that the road ahead could lead us all to glory or to disaster. Either way, it’s a road with no turns.
Helping us navigate the way forward are four guides representing a cross-section of our industry:
Peter Benedek, Co-Founder and Board Member, UTA; Katherine Pope, President of Television, Chernin Entertainment; Kevin Reilly, Chairman, Entertainment, Fox Broadcasting Company; and Ken Ziffren, Partner, Ziffren Brittenham LLP.
Moderating this panel of industry heavyweights was The Hollywood Reporter’s Lacey Rose, who noted that the major headline of the Fall has been “the growth of the DVR and the decline in ratings that has accompanied that”, going on to ask if the DVR is a killer or a savior.
Reilly said that “I think the DVR is clearly out front of new consumer behavior but it is only part of that consumer behavior, and we as an industry haven’t spent a lot of time thinking about consumers”. While it’s true that “a broadcast platform is as potent a driver today as it’s ever been”, Reilly added that “a lot of us, with the way we conduct ourselves, have our heads up our asses”. A bold statement from an exec who has long called for change, Reilly went on to explain that networks are more focused on competing with each other than on making the experience better and easier for the viewer.
Benedek said that that the DVR “allows the consumer to consume more, I think there’s a benefit to it if you really sit back and think about how people now watch television”, adding that consumer ad-skipping would be less of a problem if advertisers made more compelling advertisements, such as the recent LeBron James ad for Samsung.
Pope said that although network and studio executives are well aware of the time-shifting effects of the DVR, the problem “is on us since we are addicted to the overnight ratings”, adding that “we say it means nothing but it still does, we still value it”. Although there’s a growing consensus that audiences should be measured wherever and whenever, Pope noted that “we haven’t shifted our definition of success from the overnight ratings and I think that’s a huge problem across the board”.
Ziffren said that “the DVR is in a transitional phase and we’ll get into a broader look at ‘how are we monetizing the business?’ It won’t surprise me that five or seven years from now, advertising isn’t going to be counted by eyeballs, it’s going to be counted by engagement”. He also predicted that “the business not only stays afloat but is helped by the technology”.
Looking to some of the potential dangers that may lie ahead, Rose asked “given the declining ratings, the contraction of the industry, the shrinking budgets, how does that change how each of you are doing your job right now?”
Ziffren acknowledged that it is a time for caution and consideration, saying “there are issues we haven’t looked at for a long time that we really have to look at and study well”. He gave the example of two of Chuck Lorre’s hits, BIG BANG THEORY and TWO AND A HALF MEN, asking “what is different about those and how do those in effect change the model or are they just outliers?” Benedek disagreed with the idea the industry is in trouble, saying that “I feel like I’m working in a growth business, I don’t feel like I’m working in a business that’s contracting”. He added that many more people are buying and so “there is something for everyone”. Reilly said that his job is changing because “we’re looking still too myopically at the business”. We exist in a 24/7/365 world and so “there are radical shifts in consumer behavior, in how they’re watching”. Reilly noted that with multiple viewing options “the most precious commodity right now, anywhere, is time”.
Looking to some of the potential opportunities arising from change, Rose asked “given how deals are structured and how shows have come together and how some of the newer models are worth exploring…are these models that become appealing?”
Benedek said that they are appealing, that “creative people like those models because there’s nothing worse than pilots, people hate making pilots” and so for them it’s better to “make ten hours off a read”. Reilly disagreed, saying that “what you discover when you don’t pilot is that problems are coming out in Episode Four that should have been worked out during the pilot and it usually infects the entire season”.
Pope agreed, saying that “I love making pilots, you get to allow the show to become the being of itself off the page, it’s a really different system”.
Pope also noted that there are so many different possible models that “there isn’t one fix, I certainly was involved with the network when the fix was ‘we’re just going to go straight to series on everything’ and I did four of them and none of them worked”. As for changing the traditional scheduling models, Ziffren asked “why have the Upfront at all? Why not just rely on the success of the shows and it’s all out there and you buy the spot the day before?”
In the end, it’s all about time.
Traditional scheduling models focus on the Fall, which has worked for a long time but if everything is released at the same time it means that many shows will get lost in the shuffle.
Traditional production models have network and studio executives all racing to the same finish line, with enormous pressures placed on talent, and this can negatively affect the quality of the content.
Traditional daily-viewing models have been network-driven, but DVRs and other alternative methods result in a consumer-driven schedule, a pull schedule that is replacing the push schedule of years past.
The television industry is grappling with six decades of inertia but there is a strong consensus that change is needed, that change is coming, and so it’s just a matter of time.
Photos by Chyna Photography
HRTS and JHRTS members - view the video of this luncheon, along with many others in our video archives.