CBS Exec: Stephen King's 'Under the Dome' a New Media Experiment for the Network

At a HRTS newsmakers luncheon, Scott Koondel said the ambitious summer series will serve as a test of how to capitalize on new electronic platforms.

When CBS ordered the 13-episode series Under the Dome, based on a novel by Stephen King and produced by Steven Spielberg, it wasn’t just an investment in their most ambitious scripted summer programming in years.

It also will be a test of how to create and distribute content to make it a revenue source that can work for audiences when it airs and later in electronic aftermarkets, according to Scott Koondel, senior vp and chief corporate content licensing officer for CBS Corp.

Koondel spoke along with four other panelists at the last HRTS Newsmaker Luncheon of the year, on “Digital/New Media,” held in Beverly Hills on Tuesday.  It was moderated by Michael Kassan, CEO of MediaLink, who said the goal now is to find ways to “use different tools to capture mindshare.”

Koondel said Under the Dome will be a “multiplatform experience for viewers” who can “watch it on different platforms,” including the network TV screen, online and in other electronic forms. “It’s the perfect show,” he said, “somewhat serialized … A perfect example of what we're going to look to do to capitalize” on new business opportunities.

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Serialized shows were dying on the networks only a few years ago because viewers who did not get hooked early found it hard to catch on. What is different now is that it has become a new revenue sources for networks who sell it to steaming services. It is in this afterlife that audiences are now binging on serialized shows on streaming services, especially Netflix.

“The thing that is fascinating is how television and the digital world has come together on serialized content,” said Allen DeBevoise, CEO of Machinima. “That has created a bonanza for AMC, FX and others.”

He says his company, which distributes thousands of videos through YouTube, wants to be a “breeding ground” for more serialized content, such as Walking Dead, he added, “which executives passed on” but now is “the most successful show on cable.”

While the networks are looking to capitalize on these shifts, Ross Levinsohn, former CEO of Yahoo! warned that the shift of eyeballs to new media is only going to accelerate.

“I think network ratings, be they (broadcast) networks or cable, will be absolutely shredded within five years,” said Levinsohn.

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Levinsohn says that trend has accelerated even in the past six months, accounting for falling network ratings. He said those who will most immediately be impacted are advertisers, who will move online because it will offer a more targeted audience.

Kassan said that may be the case, but so far advertisers have not accepted the audience measurement data from most new media, which has kept them from spending money there.

“That is just horseshit,” responded Levinsohn. “The analytics that exist on digital platforms are real. This is not from a sample of 5,000 homes.”

What will bring advertisers to new media is that they can efficiently deliver their messages to very specific groups of consumers that will lend themselves to narrow targeting by brands. “Micro-segments are very valuable,” said DeBevoise. “They have huge engagement. You can build a really vibrant audience around areas you would never consider doing on traditional television.”

Those audiences are valuable because they are not easy to capture on traditional mediums, but they also have their own quirks. Brian Robbins, CEO of Varsity Pictures, which targets teens and twentysomethings, said they “have no attention span or short attention spans.”

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Hollywood is only beginning to understand these audiences, and many are still divided about how to reach them. There are “two camps in the new Hollywood,” says Vivi Zigler, president of Shine 360 and Digital Shine America. “One is creators, who are amazing story tellers. Others do technology and deliver platforms. They don’t speak the same language. They might as well be from different planets, to be honest. What’s happening is there is this emerging platform in the middle that is trying to develop both.”

She added that it is increasingly important to know who the audience is for a show and to be able to target them not just with programming but with the right promotions as well. “You have to get out there and try things,” said Zigler, “that maybe don’t make sense to the bottom line on the first try.”

“But the content has to be good,” warned Koondel, “or they will reject it on all these platforms regardless.”