It’s no secret that modern TV content delivery has evolved into a multi-faceted beast that feeds off a smorgasbord of distribution options—with consumers and TV execs caught in the middle of what can feel like a chaotic food fight.
And now with Disney, AT&T’s WarnerMedia and NBCU/Comcast all planning to launch new streaming services in the coming months to compete with the likes of Netflix, Hulu, Amazon and others, it’s anyone’s guess how things will shake out. But execs who took questions at Summer TCA in LA over the last couple weeks expressed a willingness to go with the flow, no matter what happens (as if they have a choice).
On Monday, ABC Entertainment president Karey Burke even sent a shot across the streaming bow, arguing that broadcast and traditional TV still offer the best home for creators and citing Nielsen numbers that suggest 85% of streaming shows perform below a 0.1 rating, “which is to say they don’t really perform at all. So we believe we offer creators the superior platform.”
Critics even chuckled when she pointed out that with streaming, “sometimes they get a billboard on Sunset, and sometimes they disappear into the sunset.” For show creators, it’s an abundance of riches in terms of options, but Burke insisted it has been more of a plus than a minus for the nets. “We don’t feel any sort of infighting for content,” she said. “Our studio partners are very good about working closely with the talent and guiding the projects to the right home.”
For others with decidedly less scale than a Disney or Netflix, it’s all about carving out a niche and meticulously crafting shows. “Even given the crazy volume of content today, as well as the rapidly changing nature of content platforms, some key things remain constant,” said Sarah Barnett, AMC Networks president, entertainment networks earlier in the tour. “For all the turbulence in the entertainment industry today, at heart, it’s still about finding and showcasing strikingly great work.”
Starz COO Jeffrey Hirsch even scoffed at the notion that the smaller-scale streamers and nets must get big or die—or just sell out to larger entities. “I think Netflix has done a phenomenal job of convincing everybody in this room and everybody on Wall Street that unless you spend $13 billion you can’t compete and you should take your ball and go home,” he said. “That’s just not the case… But ultimately we think people will have four or five services in their home… If Netflix and Amazon and Hulu are trying to replace television, we’re happy to be again sold on top of it.”
Amazon Studios chief Jennifer Salke, formerly NBC’s president, entertainment, said even big players still must curate content for multiple niches. “We’re not in the volume business,” she said. “We’re in the curated business of bringing individual shows, show by show by show by show, to our global diverse audience.” Even on streaming, she said the basic principles of the TV business—creating buzz-worthy shows—remains constant. “We say you’re part of a greater value package across all of Amazon, and we also know from our experience in these jobs, this is a hit-driven business,” she said.
Over the weekend, The CW chief Mark Pedowitz told critics that he doesn’t worry about cannibalization across platforms, but “the consumer is going to make the determination what they want to buy as an SVOD service or not, how they want to do it and what they want to do, and I think it’s going to go down to dollars and cents of what you want to pay.”
In the end, the old Hollywood adage may hold true: Nobody knows anything. As producer Marc Cherry of “Desperate Housewives” fame noted last week, “I would not be surprised if the television landscape changed dramatically five years from now.” Neither would we.