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TV execs say biz needs to change

Fox's Kevin Reilly laments lack of focus on consumer demands

Fox Entertainment topper Kevin Reilly doled out harsh words for fellow broadcast net execs at the Hollywood Radio and TV Society’s State of Broadcast panel Wednesday afternoon — and hinted at significant changes at the network in the coming year.

“We have our heads up our asses,” Reilly said, joined on the panel by Katherine Pope, head of TV at Chernin Entertainment, legal eagle Ken Ziffren and UTA’s Peter Benedek.

Reilly maintained the networks were prone to a “one size fits all” approach that thwarts innovation, and that the TV biz’s “collective thinking … has to evolve.”

Reilly cited a “massive shift” in viewing behavior, thanks to DVR and streaming, that has forced broadcast nets to rethink how they program shows.

“We don’t spend enough time thinking of the consumer in the chain, we think about the audience in a clump,” he said. “If you ask execs how they watch TV, they’re either not watching a particular product or they just watched five seasons on Netflix. So, why is (this exec) any different than anyone at home? We are way too obsessed with one another and not with the consumer.”

Primary topic at the panel centered on the changing nature of television — particuarly with the advent of powerhouse cable skeins like AMC’s “Walking Dead” — and how broadcast nets must change in order to remain competitive and intriguing for viewers.

“We haven’t shifted our definition for success from the overnight ratings, and I think that’s a problem across the board,” Pope said, adding in regard to the upfront presentations and fall series launches, “I don’t know why we’re even doing it anymore.”

Reilly suggested that networks shouldn’t be wedded to ordering 22 episodes of a program each season, and indicated Fox had some plans to tinker with existing models. The network has one show premiering next year, “The Following,” which will only produce 15 episodes, in part bowing to star Kevin Bacon’s reluctance to commit to more than that.

As for “American Idol,” Reilly quipped that he wishes “‘The Voice’ hadn’t happened.” He admitted that sibling singing show “The X Factor” “has not become ‘Idol,'” but that it still performs better than most broadcast shows in sheer viewership.

“I think ‘Idol’ will take a long, graceful descent into maturity,” Reilly stated. Though, he added, “it would have been longer if it weren’t for these other shows.”

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