Evolution is hot topic at TV fest

Executives address DVRs, Web content

TV comedy breaks out of the mold

NEW YORK -- The TV business is torn between opportunities and challenges, and changes to such traditions as the upfront advertising sales season and fall TV show launches are needed, industry insiders said Tuesday at the New York Television Festival.

While many cable networks and big broadcast network shows are doing well, broadcast programming is undergoing change, and the TV station business is particularly challenged, they said. Plus, industry players must find new ways to measure and monetize DVR and online viewers, they argued.

"The television business is still alive and well," said Bonnie Hammer, president of NBC Universal Cable. "Television is still the medium of choice. We're still watching TV on big screens mostly," even though kids are different.

Amid the rise of DVR and online viewership, a key challenge is to bring more viewers to the screen live or alternatively monetize DVRs or other emerging viewing platforms, she said.

Said Rick Rosen, head of television at WME: "The station business is a very challenged business. ... There are probably too many stations to support this model."

But there will be continued demand for basic services they provide, such as local weather, sports, news and traffic information, he said.

With the new TV season kicking off, both executives questioned the viability of the traditional fall launch of various new shows per network given the cost of the process and the fact that most end up with only one new success at best.

While NBC Uni cable networks like USA develop year-round, they focus their energy on the launch of single shows at any given time. "We're doing it one at a time," Hammer said.

Rosen said more limited show runs and smaller episode orders are one similar emerging trend.

He also suggested that the idea of an annual upfront is "a bit of an anachronism" these days and predicted even more branded entertainment and product integration in the future as the 30-second spot continues to fall by the wayside. "I wouldn't be shocked if five years from now we're pitching half our shows directly to advertisers" and only then to networks, Rosen said.

Is 10 p.m. still viable for networks, one audience member asked given NBC's decision to put Jay Leno on in that slot five times a week.

"It's an experiment," said Rosen, pointing out ratings declines after a solid debut last week. "Let's see where the show is in March."

Discussing the difficulties of measuring success and monetizing shows in the digital age, he pointed to "Heroes," which might get disappointing TV ratings but garners more downloads and views on Hulu than other shows. "We must be able to measure and monetize this," he said.

Hammer also said that kids and young viewers these days don't see much of a difference between cable and broadcast networks -- or distinguish between where and how they watch content. They start watching a show on Hulu or DVD, thus giving a show a promotional bump down the line, but it's still hard to directly make money off this process, she said.

But given the evolving industry dynamics, models are likely to change. For example, Hammer suggested that future generations might see the Olympics only on a cable channel.