WBTV prexy: Ratings system needs work

All the gadgets in the world aren’t going to mean much if viewing content on them isn’t properly measured, warned Bruce Rosenblum, president of Warner Bros. TV Group, in an appearance Tuesday at CES.

The studio chief had unsparing criticism for Nielsen for its current tracking practices, not to mention other audience measurement outfits.

“When you walk around that floor and see that technology, the fact we still live in a dark age and people fill out diaries to tell us what they watch and that’s the measurement we use to watch is ridiculous and embarrassing as an industry,” he said during an Entertainment Matters-track panel discussion, moderated by Los Angeles Times reporter Dawn Chmielewski.

Measurement and monetization are key factors that must be nailed down if the plethora of connected TVs at CES want to get the full range of content, he said. Managing dollars and cents are of pivotal concern for WBTV, which has nearly 50 different TV shows currently airing across broadcast, cable and syndication.

Digital platforms are helping the TV industry both monetize and market its content, including Netflix and Hulu, Rosenblum said. “What digital and on-demand platforms have allowed us to do is move the window up to monetize these shows,” he noted.

Rosenblum cited serialized dramas and off-net cable series as having found a new aftermarket that wasn’t quite there for them in the traditional syndication sectors. But for TV’s biggest hits — and WBTV has more than a few to call their own including CBS sitcom “Two and a Half Men” — digital still takes a backseat to the usual buyers.

“This doesn’t work with the big shows,” he said. “The traditional platform still generates meaningfully more money than digital.”

The secondary benefit of digital platforms is they provide a catch-up opportunity for viewers who might have missed episodes of first-run programming in their first window. That was a prime motive for the output deal WBTV and CBS Corp. sealed for their joint venture, the CW, late last year.

“One of the strategic advantages of making a Netflix deal for the CW is the marketing push that the Netflix front page offers, and Hulu as well, to expose our content and our brand to a whole host of new consumers who weren’t up to then watching the CW,” Rosenblum said.

Noting the tension between Time Warner and Netflix, Rosenblum lauded the streaming service for being a buyer of the studio’s content but acknowledged Netflix could provide a challenge on the original programming front.

“There may be a day if their business model continue to evolve and grow and they can compete for other types of contet but right now serialized drama and off-network cable is where we’ll play ball with them,” he said.

Hulu also got points from Rosenblum for helping drive eyeballs to current programming but he noted that the service and Apple’s iTunes aren’t as important as digital services that more frequently buy entire seasons or series. “I know (Hulu CEO) Jason (Kilar)’s thinking about that and he’s made deals in that direction,” he said.

Digital monetization is also about helping the studio’s network partners make good on the promise of TV Everywhere. He pointed to the breakthrough deal WBTV made with Disney last year that gave the conglom rights to make studio content available via authentication, which set the stage for the mammoth affiliate deal Disney signed with Comcast.

But for all the progress being made on digital platforms, Rosenblum made clear that TV remains the apple of his eye for driving the most revenue — for now.

“We can talk about Internet and digital but from an advertising standpoint, the most effective monetization is TV and it’s going to be that way for the foreseeable future,” Rosenblum said.

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