TV Execs Talk "All-Internet" Future, the Catch-22 of Resurrecting 'Community'
FX looks to the nonlinear future, Yahoo is keeping mum on ratings, and everyone assesses the Netflix "popularity contest"
Questions of monetizing scripted content and measuring audiences reared their heads again on Wednesday afternoon, when FX's John Landgraf, The Jackal Group's Gail Berman and several other TV executives gathered at the Beverly Hilton.
Some clearly seemed more concerned about the future of linear broadcast and cable than others, but Berman championed this premiere week — Fox's Gotham, opening a night against heavy competition with a 3.2 rating in the key demo, was her prime example — as reason enough to have faith in the current climate. "Anybody up here would love those numbers, and I think that's an incredibly encouraging statement about where we are," she told the crowd at the Hollywood Radio and Television Society luncheon. "You can watch it whenever, but if you want to talk about it tomorrow, you still have to watch live."
FX Networks CEO Landgraf, one of the biggest proponents of the industry-wide downplay of live-plus-same day ratings, was quick to note that the model is still on the wane. "Linear channels are still the dominant force in television today, but I don't think anyone would say that 50 years from now people aren't going to be watching TV primarily on the Internet — probably everything will be; it's just more efficient technology," he said. "I'm struggling, not in the present, but to figure out how to reinvent what we do in the future."
Evidence of the shift to the Internet had a presence on the State of the Industry panel with Kathy Savitt, Yahoo's CMO and head of media and everyone's frequent references to Netflix. Savitt's charge into original programming for Yahoo has thus far made its biggest impression with Community, the cult NBC comedy that the web portal saved from cancellation this summer. She demurred on whether or not she'll be releasing public ratings when Community finally returns online. "I don't know," she said. "We'll release to our advertisers just the way anyone else does."
Yahoo's investment in Community, as Berman put it, is different than that of a traditional TV series — and so will be the ways in which it's now seen as a success or a failure. "The investment from NBC was tremendous," she said. "It's great to be able to talk about the second life of these things, but the question is, what kind of content will Yahoo be able to afford in its business model going forward?"
Berman, alluding to her days at Fox, where she launched Arrested Development (later revived by Netflix), brought the conversation back to ratings and how competitors were more evenly matched during her time in broadcast. "Some of us are playing in the public space with a set of numbers, and some of us are not playing in the public space," she said. "We have to make assumptions of what those businesses are by guesswork and popularity contests."
Of course that's working thus far for shows like Lionsgate-produced Orange Is the New Black. The Netflix original, already in production on its third season, has become a TV darling without any numbers ever being released — even to its producers. "In a world in which we don't know the actual metrics, it's all we can take away from it," said Lionsgate Television Group chairman Kevin Beggs. "Right now they're very happy, so I'm happy about that."
Monetizing content, for some, means thinking beyond just the difference between traditional television and steaming options like Netflix. ICM's Chris Silbermann said that even the lines between film and TV are blurring from the sellers' perspective. "In 12 months, we're going to be taking projects to movies and someone like Landgraf at the same time," he said. "It could be eight hours, it could be three hours. Everyone is a buyer."