NBC Universal Entertainment President Kevin Reilly and Touchstone Television President and ABC Entertainment EVP Mark Pedowitz predict that there will be fewer than the current six broadcast networks on the air five years from now.
Those comments came during a joint Hollywood Radio & Television Society and Academy of Television Arts & Sciences panel discussion in L.A. about the state of the television industry, an event which moderator, film and TV producer Gavin Polone half-jokingly renamed "The Coming Television Apocalypse."
On an equally ominous note, five of the six panelists predicted that the total dollar figure for next year’s network upfronts will be flat or down from this year - with only NBC U’s Reilly abstaining from the question. Most of the responses were in the down 1-2% range, while The Firm Chairman and former Disney Television President Rich Frank ventured it could drop 10%.
A high-ranking SBC Communications executive on the panel, acknowledged having numerous discussions about "more strategic relationships" with content providers, though he declined to say whether the telco would consider acquiring a television network.
Dan York, executive VP of programming for SBC, said when asked the question, "I'm not going to answer that straight out." Citing the "competitive landscape," he said, "It obviously makes sense to be a little more vertical and not just be a downstream provider."
Polone took the position that increasing penetration of DVRs is going to lead to a “painful” restructuring of the TV business. Even so, the panelists predictably were ready to refute the end of the model as we know it.
“Frankly, network television is here to stay,” said Magna Global Worldwide Chairman and CEO Bill Cella. “But the reality is that more and more of our clients’ dollars are being spread out and that’s not a good thing for the networks.”
While the viability of the 30-second spot was a constant topic of conversation, Rich Frank said that DVRs will lead to new innovations in advertising.
Reilly said networks, including his own, are not doing enough in the product integration realm. “I think we all should be doing a little more experimentation in that area,” he said. “It becomes creatively a little challenging in the scripted arena. Somehow we have crafted the unscripted side to communicate the product a little better. Producers are able to do the dance better, but we’re not doing enough of it.”
Polone also questioned whether Touchstone producing shows for a competing network devalues ABC. ABC’s Pedowitz: “It’s a good thing to have content that flows through many distribution channels…I don’t know if it devalues ABC, it may not…It allows us as a studio to attract better talent, which may help ABC at a later point.”
After the event, NBC U's Reilly told B&C that while the event was entertaining, “It’s not just a black-and-white issue and we just scratched the surface. But Gavin did a good job getting all of us to react to some very real and topical issues.”