TV Execs Express Frustration With Development Schedule, Dependence on Nielsen

Fox's Kevin Reilly called current TV development cycles "stupid, highly inefficient" at the HRTS annual Network Chiefs Newsmaker Luncheon.

Despite their renewed optimism about the state of the broadcast business, frustration percolated to the surface about the way TV shows are bought, developed, produced and promoted during the HRTS annual Network Chiefs Newsmaker Luncheon in Beverly Hills on Wednesday.

Fox entertainment president Kevin Reilly said that having all the networks take pitches, make pilots, do schedules and launch shows on the same time cycle is “stupid, highly inefficient, wasteful and not good for anyone in this room.”

Reilly called for new ways to look at the business where there isn’t a bottleneck every year. “You look at the shows that have survived at the end of the season – created by the world’s best? It’s kind of embarrassing,” added Reilly.

Q&A: Fox's Kevin Reilly on 'X Factor' Ratings, 'Terra Nova' and the Future of 'Glee'

Reilly, who has headed programming at Fox since 2007, was joined on the panel by ABC’s Paul Lee, who is in his second year on the job; Nina Tassler, who has been doing her job at CBS since 2004; and two first chiefs only on the job since earlier this year, Jennifer Salke of NBC and Mark Pedowitz of The CW Network. Survivor host and executive producer Jeff Probst was the moderator.

There was also frustration expressed over ratings and the dependence on the Nielsen company to measure audiences. “No audience member should go uncounted,” said Tassler.

Reilly said with the growth of new ways to measure viewership the time has come to find “more of our own sources of data.”

PHOTOS: Hollywood Reporter's Philanthropy Issue: The Photographs

He said it was absurd some small markets still depend on a system where viewers fill in handwritten ratings diaries.

Salke said “there has to be a push back on the accuracy of that measurement.” But she said when a show does get big numbers, she usually finds she agrees it is because it is a great show. “But I’m an optimist,” added Salke. “I get made fun of for it all the time. But I believe great shows are great.”

The good news was that the fear of competition from the digital and online world that gripped the networks only a few years ago has eased. “It all still starts on broadcast,” said Tassler. “(Digital) is an added value.”

PHOTOS: Emmys 2011: The Executive Arrivals

“Is this a time of optimism or of a threat?” asked Lee in response to a question by Probst. “I think it’s a time of evolution. Your measurements for success have changed.”

Lee said that in the past the networks only had one major source of revenue – from broadcast advertising. “Now we have dual revenue streams,” he said., ticking off the growth in retransmission payments, international sales and most recently deals with Netflix, Amazon and others in the digital realm.

While content still starts with broadcast, Lee added that now digital can provide a platform to promote shows even before they go on the air, what he called “a viral storm.”

He cited the new ABC show Suburgatory as an example of where promotions and early sampling helped build interest. “it can really create a buzz,” said Lee.

VIDEOS: Emmy Roundtable: TV Executives

Tassler agreed that Netflix and other digital platforms are “a great option for us,” but warned that the important thing was to make sure it did not cannibalized the existing businesses of domestic syndication and international sales.

Lee and other said there was also an influx of talent from the film business into TV as fewer movies are made, and this has added a new level of creativity. Salke noted it has also meant taking even more show pitches as they look for new product.

The HRTS luncheon was also the occasion for Lionsgate’s Kevin Beggs to hand over the gavel to the groups new president Sean Perry of William Morris Endeavor. Beggs said that during his three years leading the group, membership had increased from about 600 to over 1,400 members, mostly in Los Angeles and New York.