Every year at the end of the season, the Hollywood Radio and Television Society (HRTS) puts on a "State of the Industry " event that caps off its newsmaker luncheon series in Los Angeles.
This industry org has very long legs. Executive director Dave Ferraro noted that when the series starts up again in the fall, it will be the 65th season.
Leading executives Nancy Dubuc, president and GM of History and Lifetime networks, Gary Newman, chairman of Twentieth Century Fox Television, Rick Rosen, head of the TV department at William Morris Endeavor Entertainment, Lloyd Braun, founding partner of BermanBraun and Cliff Gilbert-Lurie, partner of Ziffren Brittenham LLP all weighed in on the hot topics of the day in a panel moderated by Hollywood Reporter senior editor Alex Ben Block at the Beverly Hilton.
This year, in addition to the usual hashing out of the changes and evolution of the business, several issues were hammered home by the participants. Television ratings need to more accurately reflect what the audience is actually viewing and content creators need to be compensated.
Let's say you and I watch History's vaunted "Hatfields & McCoys" seven days after each of its three parts aired. That needs to be counted, adding to the blockbuster ratings the miniseries already racked up.
(For the record, we were so unexpectedly drawn into this tale that we watched all of it either live or within 24 hours.)
Dubuc was clearly still in a celebratory mood after History's first scripted series – remember, "The Kennedys" was supposed to air here but was dropped and ended up on Reelz – broke all non-sports cable records.
"We had an unbelievably successful strategy before, with three years of explosive growth and being number one in 18-34, with no sports," she said. Snatching a line from a previous Kevin Costner blockbuster, she concluded, "if you build it, they will come."
When asked about the dealmaking that went into delivering the program, Dubuc noted that it was more about the creative than the transaction and that the filmmakers and talent involved felt special and big-- quality she says will lure other top names to History, and also to Lifetime. "But it's not going to happen every Sunday night," she said.
Newman's studio has a successful track record of hit shows, among them "24," "Homeland" and "Glee" and is now focusing nearly as much on cable as on broadcast.
"A hit is as much about luck and timing. We try to do what others are not doing and the shows come from those attitudes," he said. "Cable is a very appealing business."
Braun, a longtime industry executive, talked about how some, but very few concepts can live across multiple platforms. "Digital is very different from what those of us who grew up in TV saw, as different as radio and print were from television," he said, before discussing the multibillion dollar question of how to effectively generate revenue from Web traffic. He says his company's Wonderwall can generate 1 billion page views a month with video, photo galleries and articles, and that provides e-commerce opportunities.
"It's a different mindset, to think it through for mobile, tablets, and phones, which are totally different than online," he said.
Rosen hammered home the idea that the most critical issue in television today is the accuracy of research and ratings. "More people are watching than ever before, but it's not being accounted for. The overnights don't actually reflect what's going on. Kids are watching differently – a week later. Networks and studios are not getting compensated. It's an enormous problem that needs to be rectified," he said.
As for the broadcast model of making enormous amounts of money from advertising, Rosen said many segments of the business don't want to "f--- with it."
"Programs have to be paid for," Rosen also insisted.
Dubuc noted that they are only compensated for Live + 3 and that cable operators have a tremendous amount of data that's not being used, even if it can't be sliced and diced like Nielsen's.
All of the panelists commented on how viewing habits have changed from people watching bits and pieces of late-night shows online to the impact of Apple and Netflix to the fact that thousands of hours of video on demand are about to become available.
"The new models are eroding the old ones, but the new models are not set," said Ben Block. "Are we trading old-school dollars for digital dimes?"
"We need to learn the lessons from the music business," Braun responded, referring to the fact that people were taking music for free until Steve Jobs came along with iTunes.
Gilbert-Lurie commented on the often repeated maxim that old media is dead, which comes up every time new media enters the mainstream-- and never holds true. "Television generates ten times as much profit as movies," he noted.
Yet it seems that the more that the cost of television programming rises, the more the entire thing feels like it's on stilts. "Dramas are now crossing $3-$4 million an episode," said Newman. "Consumers are paying for cable and satellite. I feel like something is going to give."
He mentioned a new trend that some talent is taking less upfront, like the feature film world, and Dubuc talked about the fact that cable networks own a lot of their programming and can be the financier for the right projects – even scripted ones that are risky and expensive.
"We will still do the right thing for the brand," she said, with Devil Anse Hatfield close in the rearview mirror.
Hillary Atkin is the editor and publisher of The Atkin Report, www.atkinreport.com and has written extensively on media and entertainment for USA Today, the Los Angeles Times, Daily and Weekly Variety, The Hollywood Reporter, TelevisionWeek, Entertainment Weekly, The New York Observer and LA Confidential. She is an award-winning journalist who began her career as a television news writer, reporter and producer. As a broadcast producer at KCBS in Los Angeles, she won numerous Emmy, Associated Press and Golden Mike Awards for live coverage and entertainment special events programming, and then produced and directed biographies on Robert Duvall, Elizabeth Montgomery, Linda Darnell and Nicolas Cage for A&E and E!. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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