Washington - With so many technologies now available to
watch past seasons of a show, talk about a show and supplement a show with
second-screen content, the off-season is becoming the most important for
growing and engaging TV audiences, panelists said at "Content Creation: The
Networks' Perspective" moderated by Variety's Cynthia Littleton during
Monday's General Session.
"We all realize the consumer has taken control and they're
not giving it back," said Anne Sweeney, cochairman of Disney Media Networks and
president, Disney/ABC Television Group. "Pretty Little Liars on ABC
Family never goes off the air because the Twitterverse and our viewers are one
and the same."
Josh Sapan, president and CEO of AMC Networks, agreed that
the time between seasons is now more important and interesting than ever for
keeping fans of shows like The Walking Dead engaged, and often leads to
increased viewership for its next premiere episode.
"That is a rich opportunity to expand the fan base, expand
the audience," Sapan said. "The interesting consequence is it creates a
particular invitation for stories that go on because people really like their
favorites and don't want to give them up. Technology now influences nature of
the content. I think happily it has made it better, richer."
As a premium network, Showtime is not focused on how many
viewers watch a linear premiere, with as much as 60%-80% of a series' audience
watching outside of that time. So the addition of its TV Everywhere app,
Showtime Anytime, was just an extension of that philosophy.
"Any way to take that on demand platform and provide
different access to it, we think just helps the service," Showtime Networks
chairman and CEO Matt Blank said.
Sweeney said TV Everywhere apps and SVOD services "can
peacefully coexist" with linear TV, but "it's all about a windowing strategy."
She advocated especially for advertising-supported VOD, where commercial
fast-forwarding can be disabled, making it a "very positive thing for economics
Of course, VOD adoption has been slow because of issues
around awareness and poor user interface, something Sapan believes will get better
in the coming years as cable takes a page from the usability books of SVOD
services like Netflix and Hulu.
"As cable VOD gets better and better and DVR capability goes
the way it goes, some tricks like recommendation algorithms [that SVOD does well],
cable TV will start to do a lot of that. That's a happy thing because it keeps
it all in the system," he said. "The [operators] we speak to are very aware of what's
going on. They have aggressive plans."
Blank agreed that SVOD is a friend to the industry in that
it is a revenue source for programmers, and that despite the increased
competition, Showtime has never had better performance. And he bristled at the
notion that cable TV has ceded its disruptive status to services like Netflix
"We're still the disruptors," Blank said. "The thing that
drives me crazy right now is the media's favorite companies are companies with
no revenue and no earnings," he added, to cheers of applause from the audience.
Ultimately, all this technology disruption gets people talking
so that during the year the audience for series is getting bigger and the
appetite is increasing, Sapan said.
"We're not just creating a viewing experience,
we're creating an experience for all of this chatter around the shows that in
the subscription business is very important," Blank said. "It brings more
people under the tent. Ultimately that's what we want to do. If that tent has
to change going forward, we're pretty good at doing that."