Studio execs talk state of the industry

As programmers, studios, talent and advertisers try to make sense of the new digital age, industry execs believe they may take a hit in the short run — but that there will always be demand for quality TV.

Taking part Thursday in a Hollywood Radio and TV Society panel on the state of the industry, Comcast programming prexy Jeff Shell said the current technology shakeup will help get programming into the hands of more consumers.

“The power will reside ultimately with the content providers,” Shell said. “The more people can access programming, it will ultimately be good for the TV business. There may be a little blood in the meantime, however, and we’re seeing some of that now.”

That means figuring out a working business model now — although Shell said he believes the tidal shift won’t happen as fast as everyone believes. While the West and East Coasts are adapting to new platforms like iPods and DVRs rather quickly, Shell notes that Comcast is finding it difficult to shift the vast majority of analog subscribers even to digital cable.

“I don’t think in five years that people will be watching on their PC,” he said. “Things will not change as dramatically as everyone thinks.”

Pariah prexy Gavin Polone, who moderated the panel, disagreed, noting that the same thing was said about DVRs, which are now starting to dramatically accelerate in household penetration.

“It seems to me this thing could happen rather fast,” Polone countered.

Advertisers are already starting to move away from delineating between buying spots on broadcast TV vs. other media, said MediaCom U.S. chairman Jon Mandel.

“We have somehow managed to lose our mojo as an industry,” Mandel said. “In their eyes, the TV industry hasn’t stayed current. They think we have not stayed in touch with consumers.”

It doesn’t help that this year’s upfront presentations failed to impress media buyers.

“There’s no buzz this year,” Mandel said. “Last year, at least there was ‘Everybody Hates Chris.’ “

On the talent side, Broder-Webb-Chervin-Silbermann partner Bob Broder said that because the nets and studios haven’t yet monetized the digital world (such as iPod downloads and Internet streaming), it’s still not a major part of dealmaking.

“The digital distribution is still not meaningful,” he said. “In some cases, you trade it away for other value-added consideration. But that will change. It’s going to be a real marketplace, and we’re going to have to figure out how to use it.”

Addressing the emerging world of product integration, “Scrubs” creator Bill Lawrence said he isn’t bothered by it, as long as the show sees a benefit and the product is seamlessly written into the show. A deal with the board game “Operation” netted $1 million in marketing dollars for “Scrubs,” he said.

“If we are able to make it work for us creatively, I’m OK with it,” he said. “One million dollars in advertising is something that could make the difference.”

Lawrence said his peers in the writing and producing world are still in denial, hoping that “it will go back to the way it used to be.”

“It’s not going to be that way anymore,” he said. “It’s time to adapt a little bit.”

As for other issues, Broder said that talk of talent agency consolidation is a result of the changing entertainment biz — and that although his agency has been approached about merging, he has no plans to do so.

Also, Shell said he expected to see some midlevel cable nets either merge or disappear in the coming years. And asked what he would do to bring NBC out of fourth place, Sony Pictures TV prexy Steve Mosko said the net should consider making some noise by airing more live programming.

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