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Execs Talk Binge Viewing, TV Financing, Digital at Milken

No longer are films, television shows and shorts considered their own entities. More than ever, it’s just content.

That was the universal agreement between Michael Burns, vice chairman of Lionsgate Entertainment; Kevin Mayer, EVP of corporate strategy at Walt Disney (pictured); Steve Mnuchin, chairman and CEO of Dune Capital Management and Ben Silverman, chairman and founder of Electus at the Milken Global Conference panel, Hollywood’s Pursuit of the Digital Dollar, Wednesday.

“Content is an impulse item and it never used to be,” said Burns. “Binge viewing is never going away, that’s here to stay.”

Although the majority of the panelists live their day-to-day primarily in the world of feature films, television is inevitably a significant part of their respective business models. With a sliding scale of revenue streams, Burns spoke in defense of a greater amount of content providers and distribution methods.

“The more the merrier, but you have to be careful,” he said, giving the example of Sky, several years back being the sole pay TV provider in the U.K. With the addition of Hulu, Netflix and Amazon in the digital space, now, he said, there’s a bidding war for his content and Sky can no longer “treat us like the red-headed stepchild.”

Mayer agreed with the overall sentiment, admitting that there is “some cannibalization,” between competitors but “the more you offer consumers what you want, at the place and time of their choosing, they will consume more,” he said.

Mnuchin spoke about the evolution of the small screen and why, for many years, it was less of a sound financial investment in comparison to television.

“You make a bunch of films and you hope you never lose a lot of money on a film,” he said. “Every once in a while you do, but (with film) the more times at bat (the better). That’s the film business. Four to five years ago financing television, it was hard to compete with studios and their deficit funding – it is not a good model for financial people. Now, you can make things without having a huge deficit upfront,” largely in part because of digital channels like YouTube and Netflix’s expanding growth.

Although many of these themes have already been explored, the panel argued their continued relevance.

“You have to follow the money, particularly in the digital world,” said Mayer. “Digital is big. Of companies like Netflix, I see a marriage of sorts, an engagement between content and distribution on the digital front. We are going to see more combos of that.” He pointed to pricing flexibility, seeing as windows will continue to short and there will be much larger players in the digital space.

“There’s another big player everyday with deep pockets coming in,” said Burns. “It’s the wild west at the moment.”

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