HRTS Panel Sparks Debate About Reaching a Younger Demographic

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TV execs say it's still about the content despite the modern-day advances of Netflix and Hulu.

The opportunities, pitfalls and problems for the TV industry in a fast changing, multiscreen world were on the minds of panelists Tuesday at the Hollywood Radio & Television Society newsmakers “2011: State Of The Industry” luncheon in Beverly Hills.

“You don’t have to choose among the platforms,” said Jeff Bader, Executive VP, planning, scheduling & distribution for the ABC Entertainment Group. “You have to figure out how to use them all, and how each one integrates with the others.”

You also have to find ways to reach those in their teens and 20s who haven’t grown up believing the big screen in the living room is the primary video option. “We know how to reach people over 35 with traditional screens,” said Jordan Levin, CEO of Generate, a production and management company.

A lot of the talk at the last HRTS panel of the season was about how differently the generations view, consume and consider entertainment content, and how to monetize the content consumed outside of the traditional platforms.

The younger generation who have grown up with lots of media options “want it all, when they want it and how they want it,” said Doug Herzog, President, MTV Networks Entertainment Group. “And the genie is not going back in the bottle.”

Although the preferred choice is to watch on the big screen, added Herzog, “they (also) want to watch on all the screens when they want.”

One thing all the panelist agreed on was that “it always comes down to the content,” as Sean Perry, co-head of non-scripted TV at WME Entertainment put it.

While there is often a tendency to put the process and technology first, these panelists were unanimous in believing that the technology, the web platforms and mobile don’t mean anything if there isn’t good movies, TV shows and more to drive it.

Much of that content is first showcased on well-known networks, before it is sold and re-sold and endlessly distributed over the Internet. “There is no Netfllx, there is no Hulu, without what we do,” said Herzog. “We have great brands. As long as you are making great stuff, it will lead you there.”

“What’s good for everybody who creates content in this room,” said Jordan, “is that they are going to be increasingly dependent on good content.”

However, added Jordan, at a time it is so easy to use a camera or phone to create some kind of video, the problem also becomes how to get the word out about it. “The networks used to be able to use their own air to reach viewers,” said Jordan. “But for the social media generation, it is different. Now the question is who plays the role of curator of that content?”

The other big issue is how to break through the clutter of a crowded universe of programs, information and entertainment options using these new tools. “It is not yet the fully branded environment we would want it to be,” said Bader.

That gives an advantage, to an extent, to a channel like Comedy Central because it represents a brand that the consumer can easily understand, and go to for something specific. That is  not the case with a network like ABC, but it may have to be in the future.

“We are having those discussions every day,” said Bader. “We need to microcast and broadcast at the same time.”

One way that is going to happen across multiple distribution platforms is to better integrate the producers, networks and advertisers, according to Michael Kassan, chairman of MediaLink: “We need a different relationship between content creators and national advertisers. This isn’t about product placement, it is about working together in new ways.”

“Five years from now or sooner,” predicted Kassan, “we will be talking about distribution models where (advertisers) play a different role.”

Not all new models will include advertisers, of course, as is already the case with services like Netflix.

Moderator Lacey Rose, who covers TV for The Hollywood Reporter,  asked the panelists if they considered Netflix a friend or a threat to their business?

“We see them as a friend,” said Herzog. “They’re paying us for the content.”

Herzog was less thrilled about the prospect of Netflix moving into creating a lot of its own content, which would make them more of a competitor. “We’d rather see them as buyers,” he added.

Kevin Beggs, president, Lionsgate Television Group, praised Netflix as a place where certain kinds of shows which are difficult to syndicate, like the critically acclaimed hit Madmen, can find added life, and provide additional revenue to cover its cost.

Beggs also likes that Netflix is an alternative to traditional pay TV services: “It puts a little pressure on them to pay competitive prices and that’s a good thing."