TV Execs Agree On Urgent Need For Online Model

NBC's Marc Graboff, Warner Bros. Bruce Rosenblum, CBS' Nancy Tellem and WGA's John Wells tackle question of free streaming at B&C/Multichannel News event.

One size does not fit all was the message from executives discussing the future of TV's business model at a B&C/Multichannel News event Nov. 17 in Los Angeles.

In a breakfast panel discussion moderated by B&C Editor-in-Chief Ben Grossman and entitled "Free Streaming: Killing or Saving the Television Business," Marc Graboff, chairman of NBC Entertainment and Universal Media Studios; Bruce Rosenblum, president of Warner Bros. Television Group; Nancy Tellem, president of CBS Network Television Entertainment Group; and John Wells, president of the Writers Guild of America, agreed that the TV business is in a time of flux and that the trick is to distribute content in a way that serves consumers and allows content providers to extract value.

The panelists further agreed that the events of the past year have clarified the urgency to create a model for online viewing that dissuades viewers from cord cutting, is measurable and presents content in branded environments that relate back to the TV networks that distribute it.

"The dollars that go into cable MSOs and satellite help support basic cable nets and help support us [the supplier]," said Warner Bros.' Rosenblum. "We don't want the consumer to stop paying for cable. It feeds the ecosystem that pays basic cable that pays us for repeats."

The measurement of viewing on digital-video recorders (DVR) and its potential effect on the economics was another key point discussed (the panelists expressed hope that the recently formed Coalition for Innovative Media Measurement would shed light on the issue).

"None of us is getting compensated for time-shifting on DVRs," NBC's Graboff said. "It's a huge leak in the bucket."

The panel also touched on authentication as a potentially successful model for the future. The fact remains, however, that authentication will likely not become a viable business for a few more years. The technology is already in place, and Comcast is expected to roll out its authentication platform in December, but the plan is still in its infancy, with content partners mostly taking a "wait and see" attitude.

Despite the increased focus on digital strategy, the executives stressed that their quarter-to-quarter focus remains on the core business of making great television and distributing it. But the group acknowledged the need to work quickly to identify new economic models.

Wells expressed concern that "a technology may hit the market before models shake out" while CBS' Tellem pointed to Web-enabled television sets that promise to expand consumers' already numerous viewing options.

No one claimed to have the answers, though all of the panelists said they know the question is theirs to tackle.