In a world of DVR and retrans battles, broadcast networks
have faced their fair share of threats in recent years. But according to the
heads of the five major broadcast networks, who spoke at the Hollywood Radio and
Television Society's "Network Chiefs" Newsmaker Luncheon Oct. 26, the power of
the broadcast product is here to stay.
"Nielsen tells us that people are watching more television
than ever before. People love television. Apple, Samsung, Verizon...they're
building their services out on our product," said Fox Broadcasting Company
President of Entertainment Kevin Reilly. "The audience is there, people still
love our product."
Reilly was joined onstage by NBC Universal Primetime
Entertainment President Angela Bromstad, ABC Entertainment Group President Paul
Lee, CW Entertaiment President Dawn Ostroff and CBS Entertainment President
Nina Tassler at the Beverly Hilton in Beverly Hills to discuss the state of the
broadcast television business. The panel was moderated by Lionsgate Television
Group President and HRTS President Kevin Beggs.
Despite their confidence, the network presidents were frank
about the challenges they face--not the least of which being receiving retrans
Beggs was quick to address the elephant in the room, asking
Reilly what he'd like to say to viewers who have been the casuality of Fox's
ongoing battle with Cablevision.
"Take it up with Cablevision...I like to come out swinging
with the controversial topics," Reilly joked before explaining that "With all
the shifts that are going on in our business, this paradigm shift is among the
most important--[that is,] to get fairly compensated. I think we're entitled to
get a fair share of [what Cablevision charges customers]."
The other network heads echoed Reilly's sentiments about compensation.
"The more popular our content is--and it is--[the more] we
invest a tremendous amount of time and money in making great shows. And we
should be justly compensated [for that]," Tassler said.
Defining the success of those shows, with viewership
scattered across platforms and away from primetime thanks to DVR and other
technologically innovations, has been a mixed blessing for the networks.
"You have to look at the whole picture, and you have to
realize that every viewer has to be counted at some point. There are so many
viewers that are getting our content in different ways and they're not being
adequately counted, and it's only going to get worse and worse as the years go
on," Ostroff said. "I think it's going to be a challenge for all of us to come
up with new ways to find revenue streams where [viewers can be] counted."
Tassler added that the threat of new technology is simply
par for the course in today's broadcast industry.
"Years ago DVR was going to be ‘the end of our business' and
now DVR is our friend...if I get 6 million more viewers from a DVR, that's a
friendly relationship," she explained. "[New technology] is a way to enhance
what we're doing. It's still about delivering our content on different
platforms. People need to get access to our shows and it's important to provide
them, but it's [equally important] that we're compensated."
Beyond revenue, the broadcast industry faces
creative challenges. Bromstad agreed with her peers that the
marketplace for original programming is growing increasingly crowded, but says
that reality series still hold the potential for reinvention.
"I absolutely think there is a need for big reality hits as
part of a network and its schedule, and there is absolutely room. In every other
part of our business there's been such great number of good alternative shows
that [we think] it's hard to be competitive, it's hard to be original, [but] you
can sort of reinvigorate the platform," she said, citing veteran reality series
like American Idol that are undergoing
significant structural changes.
"I think alternative is now a mature category," Lee added,
saying that the days of pitching entirely new genres are gone. "But that doesn't
stop the fact you can reinvent alternative the way that you can scripted. You
just have to do it better."
While solutions to some of broadcast's challenges remain
unclear, the network chiefs agreed that the shifting technological and cultural
landscape will ultimately fuel broadcast's future successez.
"This year we had a show basted on Twitter [$#*! My Dad Says], we had a remake [Hawaii Five-0], we had a show [Detroit 1-8-7] that began as a reality
show that turned into another scripted show. So five years from now it's going
to very interesting to see where and how many different places an idea can
reach," Tassler explained. "It's a very exciting time."