Digital platform holds HRTS panel

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How the digital age has transformed the television industry was the topic of discussion Tuesday during the Hollywood Radio and Television Society's Newsmaker Luncheon Series.

The distribution of online content, how to monetize it and its effect on TV programming and advertising were among the main points touched upon by moderator Dick Wolf and a panel of top TV executives at the Regent Beverly Wilshire.

"I don't personally think you're ever going to replace television, but that said, the ability to create, distribute and monetize content has never been easier," said Ross Levinsohn, former president of Fox Interactive Media. "If you open the window any more for creators, there may not be a need for hundreds of TV shows."

NBC Entertainment and Universal Media Studios co-chairman Marc Graboff noted that the profits from repeats of television shows are being jeopardized, but he also said that the ability for viewers to see episodes online is actually helping the on-air experience.

"The idea is to be with the consumer and not make them come to where we are," Graboff said.

Still, he credited the reach of TV and its ability to transfer eyeballs from one show to another to boosting viewership in shows that might have lagged. He cited the benefit that Fox's "House," produced by UMS, received from "American Idol" as one example.

"There is still something about audience flow and circulation — hits are fewer and farther between and cost more — but I still think we are in a business that has the ability to attract advertisers," Graboff said.

Noting his company's expanding presence in TV with the announcement of the new channel Green Planet and its presence in Latin America, Discovery Communications president and CEO David Zaslav stressed the importance of staying "on brand" when asked by Wolf about how many Discovery channels are too many.

"Nonfiction content has a different model in that it has a loyal audience, it's dependable, and you can take it around the world," Zaslav said. "We're struggling to get all our content out there."

20th Century Fox Television co-chairman Gary Newman noted the proclivity of fans of certain brands to clamor for content wherever they can get it, pointing to Fox's recent move to take content from "The Simpsons" to the mobile platform.

"We happen to be blessed with some perfect shows for that content — with shows that fans are so passionate about that they'll follow it on to other platforms," Newman said.

For his part, Wolf questioned whether the ubiquitous nature of content that originated from television is really a good thing.

"At the end of the day, are we eating our own young?" Wolf said. "This stuff gets out there so fast that there's no anticipation."

Newman stressed the thoughtfulness required when it comes to content distribution across platforms and how those involved in its creation should be compensated — this in light of ongoing contract talks between the WGA and the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers.
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