Biz working on harnessing digital tools, Milken Conference told

The panel might as well have been called Coping With Technology.

Wednesday afternoon at the Milken Institute confab sesh on the outlook for the entertainment industry, top media execs admitted they’re not sure of the best way to adapt to digital changes transforming the media business. But they’ll keep on experimenting until they hit pay dirt.

“You have to try everything,” said CBS Corp. president and CEO Leslie Moonves, citing his company’s decision to distribute content over a number of sites rather than Hulu. “A lot of things aren’t working but some of it is and is going to lead us to the promised land.”

The challenge, said News Corp. chief operating officer Chase Carey, is developing business models that won’t hurt existing ones. Waiting until the dust settles is not an option, he added.

“You’ve got to fight that temptation,” Carey said, “because technology isn’t going to stop. At most you can delay it.””Waiting and delaying is a big mistake,” seconded moderator Terry Semel, former topper at Yahoo and Warner Bros. who now runs Windsor Media investment shingle.

Panelists cited the music biz and print-based media as cautionary tales of industries too slow to respond to technological change. “We are becoming more and more technology companies,” Moonves said. “Quite frankly, technology goes hand and hand with content.”

Irving Azoff, exec chair of Live Nation, said his company focuses on the one sure way to monetize music these days — ticket sales. “Anything that revolves around the ticket business is safe,” he said.

He believes traditional music labels can survive, as long as they shift their business to rely on licensing, much the way music publishers do.

Carey and Moonves both gave thumbs up to the new wave of retrans fees flowing in to broadcast networks, calling them long overdue. Both noted that for all declines in network TV, Big Four network shows still command primetime’s largest auds. Moonves couldn’t resist a shot at rival NBC when quizzed about what changes the Comcast-NBC Universal merger might bring to television.

“Seeing as NBC is in fourth place, we don’t want anything to change,” he said.

When asked about the performance of CBS Films, he was equally frank: “Am I satisfied with how we’ve done so far? In a word, no.”

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