UCLA Panel: Cost Containment a Must Amid 'Golden Age of Television'

Is it the best of times or the toughest of times in the television business? Perhaps a bit of both, if one takes to heart the message of the panelists at a session of the UCLA Entertainment Symposium, an annual event for entertainment lawyers.

To be sure, most of the panel’s comments were positive, even rosy. It’s “the golden age of television,” said Joe Cohen, co-head of CAA’s television department and a 25 year vet of the agency. “There’s so much opportunity.”

“We’re bullish” on television, said Dan Limerick, executive VP, business affairs, at Warner Bros. Television, who also noted “we’re spending as much if not more” on programming than previously.

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Chuck Larsen, president of the October Moon Television consultancy, was similarly buoyant, describing the new opportunities offered by subscription video on demand. Binge viewing on SVOD, he said, can be additive to traditional scheduled television by introducing viewers to series they might not have originally watched.

And yet, the ebullience was accompanied by cautionary notes. “Cost containment” is a must, said Limerick, and those studio dollars are more likely to be spent on high-end script deals than on overall deals that might produce no return.

Moderator Craig Emanuel, a partner at Loeb & Loeb, echoed that last, noting that the number of housekeeping and overall deals was down.

Said Cohen, “high-end players are living the dream,” but “(other) people are taking paycuts.”

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Along the way, the panelists offered a few interesting factoids. Limerick said that 60 percent of pilots picked up this season were based on underlying material such as novels or licensed formats, rather than original concepts.

Larsen noted that that in 20 years of viewership of a top sitcom – he didn’t say which one – only ten percent of the viewership was of the original network broadcasts. Fifteen percent was on basic cable, and the remaining 75 percent was on local syndication.

Of course, in a Hulu / iTunes / Amazon / Netflix / YouTube / etc. world, it’s anyone’s guess what those numbers will look like over the next twenty years. Stay tuned – or keep streaming, as the case may be.

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