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Fall Programmer’s Summit 2014 – HRTS Luncheon Recap

Fall Programmer's Summit 2014 luncheon panel shot

If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there and so on November 20th, some of the brightest minds in the business came together at the Beverly Hilton to figure out where we’re all going and how we’re going to get there.

Andy Greenwald, staff writer at Grantland, moderated the annual Programmer’s Summit luncheon with panelists Kent Alterman, President of Content Development & Original Programming at Comedy Central; Susanne Daniels, President of Programming at MTV; and Nick Grad, President of Original Programming at FX Networks and FX Productions.

Andy Greenwald moderates the Fall Programmer's Summit 2014

Andy Greenwald

Greenwald started by noting that all of the panelists had gained their current positions fairly recently, going on to ask what they prioritized from day one in the job. Daniels said that “the state of the network was fairly healthy, with a strong brand” and “one of the goals, one of the reasons I was hired was to increase scripted programming”. Grad said “we knew we were launching a new suite of networks and we’d have to radically ramp up the amount of programming we have” and so “what the biggest challenge has been is keeping up with that kind of volume and making sure that we don’t fall into the trap of having so much volume that we can’t give the shows the same TLC or the same level of focus”. Alterman drew a big laugh when he quipped “my job didn’t really change, I asked them for more money after my first deal was done and then they gave me a new title”, adding that “everyone in this room knows that this business is cyclical, it has its ups and downs. When I took over, I think the network was in more of a down period for a little while, they were still grappling with the ghost of Dave Chappelle and it had been a while since the look and the feel of the network had been updated, so I felt that there was a lot of opportunity”.

Susanne Daniels; HRTS; Fall Programmer's Summit 2014

Susanne Daniels

In terms of branding, Greenwald asked how much personal taste and sensibility can be brought to the job versus servicing the existing needs of the network’s brand. Daniels said that “it’s a constant balancing act, because you’re going to be attracted and want to be involved in projects that appeal to you personally but at the same time you have to have your glasses on, your audience-perspective glasses”. Grad agreed, saying that “you don’t want to lose your focus, the brand is the most important thing”. Alterman noted that “to a large degree I think it’s less about my sensibility and point of view as it is about the creator’s sensibility and point of view, and our most important guiding principle is to find talented people that have a really strong point of view”.

Are viewers fans of specific networks or are they more loyal to specific shows regardless of platform? Grad said “I’m a marketer, I’m marketing a brand through these shows and the longer you do it, the more the brand has value”. Daniels concurred, adding “I think brand is really important, I’ve always felt that way” since “it makes a difference, it sets a certain level of expectation”.

Nick Grad; HRTS; Fall Programmer's Summit 2014

Nick Grad

As for ratings, Greenwald asked the panelists what specifically they look for in the numbers. Grad said that “we try and look at them in the way of who’s watching the show, and when it comes down to the decisions of picking shows or giving them another season, I think we’re always looking at if there’s potential for this show to grow”. Daniels noted how the game has changed in recent years, how “the tricky part of ratings today is that we find with our audience that they’re very savvy and they’re waiting to find out if you’re going to pick it up for Season 2 before they invest and then if you pick it up for Season 2 they’ll binge-watch Season 1”.

So is there a difference in value between winning Twitter versus winning a timeslot? Alterman said that “I think there’s a disconnect, a lag and a disconnect between popularity on the one hand and measurement and monetization on the other” and so shows can sometimes have as many or more viewers on YouTube than on a traditional network platform. Daniels agreed, though she predicted that “I think that ultimately there won’t be a disconnect, I think we’re moving in a way where we start to measure those different viewing patterns”.

Kent Alterman; HRTS; Fall Programmer's Summit 2014

Kent Alterman

There are currently more buyers producing more scripted programming than at any time in history, how does this change the thinking? Grad said “it makes you play a little tight since if you don’t make it then maybe somebody else will make it and you’ll look bad”, but that being said, “we don’t block people from taking out things that we pass on and setting them up somewhere else, if you’re not going to make it then let someone else do it”. Alterman concurred, saying “just because something isn’t right for you doesn’t mean it isn’t right for someone else”. Daniels said that “all of the competition makes you as a network executive think a little bit harder about how you’re going to break out with a pitch”.

In closing, Greenwald asked what panelists want to hear when they sit down for a pitch, what excites them. Grad said “we can come up with all kinds of ways to analyze the common things in all the shows that have worked, but whatever that next great show is, right now it’s an empty space. It doesn’t exist yet and you can use all the algorithms in the world but you can’t come up with what that next thing is, and so there will always be the great thrill of hearing that pitch”. Alterman agreed, adding “you really can never know where it comes from, and the greater the heights it reaches, the more it’s lightning in a bottle”. Daniels said “I am excited about personal stories, I really get excited when someone comes in and they want to tell a story based on a personal adventure that they lived”.


Photos by Chyna Photography

HRTS and JHRTS members can watch the video of this luncheon in addition to the large archive of past HRTS Newsmaker Luncheons. Log in here with your HRTS username and password.

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