Today's panel in the Newsmaker Luncheon Series of the Hollywood Radio and Television Society (HRTS) may be the last one of the season but that surely didn't mean the discussion was not lively. The annual "State Of The Industry" lunch panel was held earlier today at the Beverly Hilton Hotel and the conversation went from the changing platforms for programming and how viewers are consuming product as well as how the way the business collects ratings data needs to change to catch up to the current times.
Our Jim Halterman was present at the panel, which was moderated by The Hollywood Reporter's Alex Ben Block and featured panelists Rick Rosen (Head of Television Department, WME and former HRTS President), Lloyd Braun (Co-owner and Founding Partner of Berman/Braun), Nancy Dubuc (President and General Manager, History and Lifetime Networks), Cliff Gilbert-Lurie (Partner, Ziffren Brittenham LLP), and Gary Newman (Chairman, 20th Century Fox Television.)
12:55 PM - HRTS Executive Director & Executive Producer of Events Dave Ferrara kicks off today's program by saying that when the new Newsmaker Luncheon Season starts up again in the fall, it will be the 65th season and Dave promises many great panels in the works.
1:01 PM - Sean Perry takes the podium to introduce the "State Of The Industry" Panel.
1:05 PM - Alex kicks off his moderating duties by generally addressing the great changes going on in the industry and how every level of the business has been affected, which makes the business model change overall.
1:07 PM - Alex gets an early laugh when he says it's appropriate that Nancy be wearing red because the History Channel is on fire and he cites the recent ratings bonanza for "Hatfields & McCoys" miniseries. How do you follow that success? "Oh shit," is Nancy's first reply. However, she says their track was already in place before the miniseries aired over Memorial Day weekend. "History was already coming off of three years of record breaking growth," she says. She adds that they know great content trumps and they'll continue to be more about the creative process and less about the transaction. As for Lifetime, she says they'll continue multi-season series and there will be more coming. The one criteria for more miniseries at History? "They need to feel special, they need to feel big," she says.
1:10 PM - For Gary, Alex asks how he makes a hit series and how does he decide which platform (cable or broadcast) is best? "Our mantra is to try to be bold, specific, try to do what others aren't...shows like '24,' 'Glee,' 'Homeland' come out of those kinds of attitudes." In terms of where they take shows, he says most shows speak for themselves. If a show seems like it will have 200 episodes, go to broadcast. 'Homeland' was taken to broadcast and everyone passed on but it is best suited for cable because it would never be 22 episodes for five years.
1:13 PM - Cliff, being the lawyer on the panel, is asked about the pressure for negotiations he does for his clients. "The business has changed a lot where studios are now looking at budgets where they say this is how much we're spending on a movie...sometimes the back end deals come because you have a 20 million actor or actress who doesn't fit into the budget." He cites Sandra Bullock for her movie "The Blind Side" deal and how she took less money upfront for a piece of the back end.
1:15 PM - Alex moves to Lloyd and talks about how his company is designed to look at other platforms like digital. How important is it about the money as well as where you can do the right work. Lloyd says, "Our approach, really is, when we're creating content, we're looking at it in a variety of ways. A, what is this content or brand that we're talking about doing and where does it belong. It's a very different analysis for the digital world than if we're thinking about the television and movie world."
1:18 PM - Lloyd explains that digital is very different than anything in television. "It's as different from television as radio and print was to television." Everything about it is different, he says. He says the big TV monitors are now turning into big IPads.
1:22 PM - What do you see in the research field? Rick Rosen says it's the most critical issue in television. "There's more television being watched than ever before. The problem is that it's not being accounted for in an accurate way...it needs to be resolved." He says that people are not watching TV the same way. Some still watch it a traditional way but other people are watching beyond the 3 days after it's originally aired. "Younger people, especially, our kids, are watching shows differently. They watch shows a week later, they watch seven episodes in a row [and] they're consuming enormous amounts of television. They're watching either on their DVR or Netflix but networks are not getting compensated for that..." He says that is an enormous challenge but it needs to be rectified.
1:25 PM - Nancy agrees with Rick on what he's said about needing a new version of audience research. For her programming, Nancy says, "the live +7 rating for most shows goes up by anywhere from 40-60 percent though we're only compensated for Live +3." Content can't be for free at the end of the day, she adds. That model doesn't work. She says there is more of an advantages in cable because they can brand their network to speak to different demographics.
1:27 PM - Lloyd talks about how he just watched all of the "Mad Men" episodes - pilot to the most recent episode aired - in the last few weeks and is also doing the same with "Walking Dead" and "Breaking Bad" and there lies the problem. "I didn't see one ad when I was watching Netflix and watching 'Mad Men,' 'Walking Dead,' 'Downton Abbey'... not one ad! But the networks didn't make any money and so the way we're now all consuming content is diametrically opposed to the system that's been established for 50-60 years."
1:30 PM - Rick talks about late night television and how shows like "The Tonight Show" and "Late Night With David Letterman" and their ratings reflect pretty closely to who watches those shows. Jimmy Fallon, on the other hand, has a big online component to his show. And he says that people can watch sketches and pieces of Conan on the TBS website so the ratings themselves for those shows don't accurately reflect who is consuming the product.
1:36 PM - Where are we going? Lloyd says it has to start with what the audience demands because "We do a big disservice to ourselves...we don't distribute the content the way they audience wants it." He cites the way his kids grabbed music for free online because there was no consistency until Steve Jobs (Apple) came along. People will pay, he says, but you have to give them the product. He says that people are dying to watch "Homeland" but it's not available. He also said his parents can't get the 4th season of "Breaking Bad" to watch. Lloyd says that everyone is willing to pay for it but to not do it...it's madness.
1:39 PM - Lloyd continues, "One of the reasons I have so much respect for Netflix is those guys invested in technology that on paper is going to kill their business. They were renting DVDs. Selling DVDs and they invested in this streaming technology which would cannibalize their DVD business but they knew the audience was going to insist on this... " He said the same thing with Apple when they knew the IPhone would cannibalize the IPod but the audience was going to demand it.
1:44 PM - What about the cost of programming? Alex asks. As the cost of programming rises and the audience is going down, what happens? Rick says he's not so sure they are actually getting a smaller audience but it goes back to the way audiences are measured.
1:45 PM - Gary says that in terms of the cost of programming for a series, costs have gone up but he says it feels the entire industry is being built up on stilts that are not very secure. He feels retransmission is a big concern and something's gotta give. "Clearly the damn has broke in terms of retransmission...every couple of months we're going to see another situation where broadcast and cable channels are pulled off systems and the same dance of newspaper ads about how terrible the network is and how terrible the cable operators are...there's an inevitable sense that it's being built higher and higher and eventually something's gotta give..."
1:52 PM - Alex asks Nancy about programming cost. Nancy says they're looking very closely at these creative deal with the A level talent. She says, "we can be the financier to give the actor or show runner a piece of the game...someone who has the power to define or redefine a network. I think we have to look at things like that." She acknowledges that scripted fare is "extremely expensive, extremely risky and not necessarily a strong performer in terms of the unscripted... [and] the balance between scripted and unscripted is risky.
1:54 PM - Alex asks each of the panelists "What was the toughest negotiation you've ever been in that you can't get out of your head?" Gary jokes that many of them have been at home with his children but he does mention a painful one with none other than fellow panelist Lloyd (then at Brillstein Grey) over Jim Belushi but it was the beginning of a great friendship.
1:56 PM - Cliff says the one that got away was when he and one of his partners represented Dave Chappelle and Comedy Central. For Nancy, she looks at it another way and says a project like "The Client List" and bringing Jennifer Love Hewitt to Lifetime as well as "Hatfields & McCoys for History are all good deals they made. She said they were creatively rich and both studio and network believed in them.
2:00 PM - Lloyd says one of the most difficult was with fellow panelist Rick and they didn't talk to each other for six months over getting JJ Abrams to do another series after "Alias." It was tough, Lloyd says, because it was with a friend. Rick says that, like Nancy, there are so many that got away but he sees the gratifying ones first. Linwood Boomer was someone nobody wanted to talk to but then Rick helped put together the sitcom "Malcolm In The Middle," which was created by Boomer and was a big success for Fox.
That's a wrap from today's HRTS panel. The HRTS lunch panels will start up again in September.