Tune In: TV Summit Keynoters Look for New Ways to Target Core Series Fans

Variety TV Summit Chris Albrecht
Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

Over the past decade, television has ballooned to such an extent in terms of content, it’s almost impossible to keep up with the ever-expanding slate of programming. But with niche audiences on the rise and budgets per show sinking, the challenge becomes how to create high-quality content without always having the benefit of a bottomless checkbook and the desired amount of production time.

“In an era of declining budgets, but increasing opportunity, you’ve just got to do everything,” says Tom Forman, CEO of Relativity Television.

Forman, along with Starz CEO Chris Albrecht, will deliver keynote addresses on the changing face and future of the television industry at Variety’s annual Tune In: TV Summit, held June 9 at the Four Seasons Los Angeles in Beverly Hills.

Both Forman and Albrecht agree that television is currently blessed with an abundance of content consumption, but is also contending with an increasingly segmented audience. “We’re doing more with less than any time since I entered this business 25 years ago,” says Forman.

As a premium channel, Albrecht notes that Starz is looking for ways to target enthusiastic core audiences, pointing to the channel’s recent successes with the inaugural seasons of drama series “Outlander” and “Power.” The numbers game in television has shifted, says Albrecht.

“If you make a show for a certain audience, you want to make sure you get that audience,” he says, going on to explain that this is pointedly different from the old model of trying to pull in as many viewers as possible.

But Relativity, says Forman, still prefers to bank on the consistency of such big networks as CBS. It also doesn’t hurt to back projects with a built-in audience. Case in point: the network’s upcoming series “Limitless,” starring Bradley Cooper, had a pre-existing fan base thanks to the original the 2011 thriller (and Alan Glynn novel) on which the series is based.

Forman dubs the process of developing shows that have proven ties to a large audience “de-risking the development process.” It’s the same approach Relativity took when adapting the 2010 film “Catfish” as a TV series for MTV. The show has proven a smash hit for the network.
While Starz is just one network in a jam-packed arena, Albrecht is quick to tout the premium channel’s main selling points, one of which is that there are no commercials.

Without ad breaks disturbing the continuity of Starz programming, its hourlong dramas have drawn top players in the film industry. To wit, Oscar winner Alejandro G. Inarritu (“Birdman”) will direct upcoming Starz series, “The One Percent,” a drama about the world of organic farming co-starring Ed Helms and Hilary Swank. Not only are the time constraints closer to that of the bigscreen, but Starz can also order shows straight to series, which could further lure big Hollywood directors. Relativity is also developing Web shows without act breaks or commercials.

“Attention spans are so short,” says Forman. “The instant you are not entertaining them, they are gone.”

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