Just Can’t Get Enough – The State of the Industry 2015 HRTS Luncheon Recap
How much is too much? The global demand for content is at an all-time high and so the production has risen accordingly. Is there a tipping point? If so, where is it? And how do we get paid for all of this?
On October 15, 2015 a packed house gathered at the Beverly Hilton to explore these questions during the inaugural event of the 2015-16 HRTS Newsmaker Luncheon series, the State of the Industry.
Helping us navigate the way forward were five panelists representing key sectors of our industry:
Paul Lee, President of ABC Entertainment Group; Ted Sarandos, Chief Content Officer of Netflix; Sandra Stern, President of Lionsgate Television Group; Frances Berwick, President of Lifestyle Networks at NBCUniversal Cable Entertainment; and David Nevins, President of Showtime Networks.
Moderating this panel of explorers was Parachute TV’s Jon Erlichman, who began by going back to the future as he referenced last year’s SOTI panel and its predictions, asking the panelists what has surprised them over the past year. Sarandos noted that what works is universal, that “the great news for the people in this room is that most of the things that people love to watch, they love to watch around the world”. Lee concurred, adding “we were gratified to see that all of the movements we were making to create a much more multicultural landscape really came home last year. You absolutely saw that if you can empower showrunners that reflect the country around them you can unleash a huge wave of creativity”. Nevins said “I’ve been surprised by how fast it’s moved – a year ago this time we had all the plans in place to sell ourselves over the Internet but we hadn’t yet made the decision to push the button and do it. I thought it would be a small locus of focus for the first year or two and it’s become a major part of who we are very fast”. Berwick agreed as to the rapid and accelerating pace, adding that “everybody’s been surprised by the speed of the change, the shift in viewing behavior. I think one of the most surprising things is that in this so-called Golden Age of scripted is that it’s still unscripted that is dominating in terms of cable entertainment”.
Erlichman next addressed Stern directly, pointing out that her studio has relationships with broadcast, cable and OTT streaming, asking her how she selects specific projects. Stern said that “we try to be very strategic in the way that we develop our shows, we look to find those programs – unscripted as well as scripted – that have the potential to find an audience and keep an audience and engage people. And so our shows tend to be a little noisier than some others because we are a little bit more selective, we have to be more selective”.
In terms of monetizing, should we think of networks as distribution networks or as brands? Berwick said that “brand is really important right now, it will be vital in a couple of years’ time”. Nevins noted that Sarandos and Netflix have for many years pointed the way toward the future in that “we’re going to be in an app-based world, and your app will be your brand”. Lee said that it’s not so much an either/or choice, since “you can be a network and a brand. In a world of fragmentation, it’s a brand that really makes you stand out”.
The world has changed not only on the business side but on the creative side as well, Lee making clear that “all the rules that were written in stone when I walked through the door – period doesn’t work, fairytales don’t work, main characters have to be likable, they probably have to be white, no moral complexity – these were the rules that you’d been living with for many, many years and the reality is that they’ve all gone. It’s all happening because we are in an on-demand world, it’s no longer about what seems to be least objectionable, it’s a world where if you don’t love it then it doesn’t survive”.
Earlier this year, FX head John Landgraf said that there is too much TV. Sarandos took exception to the suggestion that there’s a glut, saying “that is an extremely old lens to look at TV under - in a world of 4 networks and 3 hours of primetime, 1 more show would have been too much TV. But now the economics of production and distribution are unique to shows and so there’s no such thing as too much TV unless we’re all spending more and not watching more, which has not been the case”. Stern and Lee agreed, since good shows will always attract viewers and especially if made available on demand across multiple platforms. Nevins noted the growing global demand for Hollywood content, that “the same dynamics are happening around the world and the addictive, serialized shows are what’s driving the market in a lot of places”.
What about social media? Berwick said that “half of the challenge and the benefit of how social media works now is that [reality TV] characters are front and center throughout the year. The challenge for us is that the stuff they’re doing we won’t be airing for another 4 months”, drawing a big laugh as she quipped “we also have to keep them out of jail”. Sarandos agreed, adding that although Netflix releases every episode at once, “with social media there’s a collective buzz all year and not just on one night”. Lee said that social media “is a fantastic boon to television. It’s a wonderful thing that you’re no longer off on your own in the dark, that you’re watching with millions of people as it happens”.
Given the ongoing and increasing connections between viewers, producers and networks, how does everyone continue to get paid? After a bit of light-hearted teasing of Sarandos over his continued refusal to release ratings – “a little note would be nice” joked Stern – the panel agreed that the outlook is bright. Lee said that “five or ten years ago, broadcast was a single revenue stream business, it was all about the minute-by-minute ratings. Over the past years, broadcasters have built multiple revenue streams, we own the content, our retransmission is now aggressive, we build platforms around the world, we have four or five revenue streams”.
The hunger for content is growing and shows no signs of slowing, from binge-viewing to live-tweeting to discussion board commenting. Fan passion and enthusiasm build and build in new and different ways, strengthening engagements that create communities and worlds for us all. We slip and slide as we fall in love and we just can’t seem to get enough.
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.