Doomsday discourse

Net exex say predicted TV demise not coming

Predictions of television’s demise at the hand of TiVo have been greatly exaggerated, a panel of network entertainment presidents insisted Thursday.

Gathered onstage at the Hollywood Radio and Television Society’s annual fall TV kickoff luncheon, a majority of the six toppers dismissed concerns that personal video recorders like TiVo and Replay will have much of an impact on advertising dollars in the near future.

“This is a wholly overblown premise,” argued NBC Entertainment prexy Jeff Zucker.

While some PVRs, such as SonicBlue’s new Replay model, have the ability to zap commercials, the execs argued that PVRs are expensive toys that won’t catch on with Middle America.

ABC Entertainment prexy Susan Lyne even contended that PVRs won’t ever catch on — because unlike VCRs, which allowed consumers to bring movies into the home, Lyne believes “there’s nothing revolutionary about TiVo.”

‘Not revolutionary’

“There’s not enough people who need to buy a TiVo,” she said. “It’s not going to give them much more. This is not a revolutionary product.”

The execs also pointed out that PVRs have yet to penetrate the marketplace in any large numbers. In response, CNN’s Jeff Greenfield, who moderated the panel, countered that naysayers probably said the same thing when video recorders first hit the market in the late 1970s.

The lone voice of concern came from WB Entertainment prexy Jordan Levin, who said Frog execs are wearily looking at ways to survive in the event that advertiser-supported television is no longer viable.

“We worry about it all the time,” said Levin, whose boss, Turner CEO Jamie Kellner, has frequently warned of the potential effects of ad-zapping PVRs.

“Look at the profit margins of network television,” he said. “If the forces continue … we’ll be at a place where advertising doesn’t drive network TV the way it does today.”

Changes foreseen

Fox Entertainment prexy Gail Berman said she didn’t think ad-supported TV would ever go away –after all, the execs noted, legislators wouldn’t allow a pay model on over-the-air signals — but that “it won’t look the way it does now.”

And CBS Entertainment president Nancy Tellem predicted a return to 1950s-style sponsorship, when advertisers were much more involved in the day-to-day production of television.

Hoping to combat viewer erosion, the execs also admitted that content standards continue to loosen — particularly at 10 p.m.

Role of reality

Levin also disagreed with his contemporaries on whether the nets have dipped too far into the reality well. While execs like Berman and Tellem preached balance — with reality part of the mix alongside comedies and dramas — Levin argued that “the balance is out of whack.”

Zucker said he’d rather put on reality shows that viewers want to watch than push more viewers to cable by scheduling low-rated scripted shows.

As for the staple of all HRTS questions — “Which new show on a rival network do you covet the most?” — UPN Entertainment prexy Dawn Ostroff picked Fox’s “Fastlane,” while Zucker and Lyne went for CBS’ “CSI: Miami.” Levin wants ABC’s upcoming Jimmy Kimmel talker, while Berman and Tellem went for the WB’s “Everwood.”

Also on their wish lists: Lyne would like to stop “the downward momentum” of ABC; Levin hopes to enhance the WB’s distribution system, particularly in markets 50-plus; and Berman hopes to “take some of the critical acclaim we’ve had over the last few years and turn it into real ratings success.”

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