In a multiplatform world, where the consumer is king, keeping viewers satisfied while finding a way to monetize content is the biggest challenge facing programmers today. That was the takeaway from the "State of the TV Industry" panel at the 2011 TV Summit hosted by the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Foundation and Variety Feb. 15 in Los Angeles.
"How do we embrace the digital world, where people want to watch content sitting in front of a scheduled night on TV, while at the same time getting value for it? Networks value programming on ratings and ad dollars. The fact that they don't have a way to do that online is problematic," said Michael Lombardo, president of programming at HBO.
Lombardo was joined by Jay Sures, managing partner at UTA, and David Madden, president of Fox TV Studios, for the panel moderated by Stuart Levine, assistant managing editor at Variety.
Sures emphasized that ad-supported online platforms like Hulu continued to be obstacles to finding a successful model for monetizing programming.
"I think Hulu can be valuable in first year or six moths of a show because it give viewers the opportunity to see a show," he said. "But to then keep it on there and not get the show calculated in ratings, I don't think that's fair for the studio, content creators and everyone else involved in show. That's the fine line we're walking: the consumer wants content 24 hours a day, but they have to understand that somebody has to pay for it."
But with that kind of demand from consumers, the need for strong content across the board has become as crucial as the need to monetize it.
"The consumer is very clear they're going to watch what they want, when they want to," Lombardo said. "The challenge is to have every show be passionate among some demo. There's no longer room for shows that fit comfortably from a scheduling standpoint between other shows that do that. But if the content is good, people will find it."
The panelists also agreed that the proliferation of content from basic cable networks like AMC and TNT has also raised the bar for content. Madden says that the key to strong content is avoiding trying to find the next big hit and focusing instead on developing shows that viewers can emotionally invest in.
"I think televison works when it's emotion. When it makes you feel. That's what we're all supposed to do. You can put any kind of intellectual scripture around it, but that's what I comes down to," he said.
"The fact is there is no formula. Good shows come from inspiration, from good writers. To try to work your backwards is guarteed failure," added Sures. "From an agency perspective, it's about cream rising to top."