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Panel weighs TV’s future

Polone presses panel on gloomy outlook

Producer Gavin Polone introduced Tuesday’s Hollywood Radio and Television Society “state of the industry” luncheon by announcing, “The television business is going to hell,” but the six panelists adopted a slightly more sanguine view regarding the medium’s future.

Acting as moderator at the Regent Beverly Wilshire event, Polone joked that he was already pursuing a second career as a talkradio host and pressed those participating on the inevitable death of ad-supported television as TiVo and related technologies rupture the broadcast TV model.

The Firm chairman Rich Frank insisted, however, that the business was simply evolving, using a trial-and-error approach to discover the different price points — from broadcast to DVD to potentially cell phones — at which consumers will pay for programming. “We will find the right mix. We always have in the past,” Frank said.

Polone set the tone for the free-wheeling affair, co-sponsored by the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, by saying that technology was leading the business toward “creative and financial bankruptcy. Enjoy your chicken.”

Still, participants William Cella, chairman of ad buyer Magna Global, and NBC Entertainment prexy Kevin Reilly both suggested that conventional commercials would survive while media buyers continued to develop new ways to integrate ads into programming — without running roughshod over content. Reilly, in fact, suggested that the networks should be more experimental in involving advertisers at the earliest stages of programming, as opposed to resisting the trend.

Daniel York, exec VP of programming for SBC Communications, also acknowledged that in addition to competing with the cable biz as a pipeline into homes, his company is interested in developing partnerships with content providers that are “vertical … and strategic.” He declined to address whether some kind of entertainment acquisition might be in SBC’s future.

Entertainment attorney Ken Ziffren and Touchstone Television president Mark Pedowitz sparred over the impact of industry deregulation on creative talent, with Ziffren arguing that artists denied the huge paydays of the past can only reap greater rewards if studios become “smarter or more profitable.” To illustrate deficiencies on the latter front, he noted that anyone who received stock options at several studios in recent years would, at this point, be unable to cash them.

In a preamble to the session, luncheon co-chair Chris Silbermann, a partner in the Broder Webb Chervin Silbermann Agency, featured quotes from past “state of the industry” luncheons, including NBC Universal TV Group prexy Jeff Zucker’s prediction that all the networks would go to year-round original programming. “Not really, Jeff, but we can figure out a way to blame Kevin for that one, too,” he quipped, referring to Reilly.

Cultivating his bad-boy reputation, Polone even lampooned the 48-year-old organization’s name, asking to see a show of hands for those who fall into the “radio” category.

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