MIAMI — How much TV is too much TV? A group of senior network and studio execs parsed that question and the impact of the scripted series boom Tuesday morning at the opening session of the NATPE conference.
Perhaps the truest statement of all came from United Talent Agency’s Peter Benedek, who weighed in with the most incontrovertibly true statement in the debate about business models, surging demand, program release strategies and the challenges of monetization. “It’s a great time to be an agent,” he said with a grin.
Lionsgate TV Group president Sandra Stern and Showtime programming president Gary Levine came down firmly on the side that there is no crisis in the sheer volume of TV programming. The too-much-TV question has been one of the biggest topics of conversation in the TV biz since a warning about rapid growth of original series was articulated last summer by FX Networks CEO John Landgraf.
Panelists agreed that the volume brings vastly more choices to consumers, which is good for business overall. But there was an acknowledgement that making money from off-network rights to shows is complicated by fragmentation.
“Television today is not about keeping up with everything,” Stern said. “We’ve settled into a more niche period where everybody can find his or her favorite show.”
Levine noted that TV executives are the only constituency worried about the spike in programming. “We seem to be the only part of the culture that bemoans an abundance of quality programming,” he said. “What’s the problem?” In a country of 350 million-plus viewers and 100 million-plus TV households, 400-plus shows doesn’t seem like overkill, he noted.
Stern admitted that it’s harder for studios to make big money in the short-term in the traditional syndication model, especially as the outlets that used to spend freely on acquired programming are now more focused on originals. “A home run is harder to get today than it was five years ago,” she said. “We’re all very happy today with doubles — but not that happy.”
Stern gently sparred at one point with Morgan Wandell, Amazon’s head of drama programming, in talking about the challenges for studios in selling worldwide rights to a single platform now that Netflix and Amazon are seeking near-global rights for series.
“I’ve got a natural limitation on how much I can make” when the most lucrative worldwide rights are sold in one fell swoop. She noted that international compensation for studios is built into to Netflix and Amazon deals as a percentage of the production budget. That’s a good thing for a show that performs modestly but in success it’s a handicap. “They don’t pay (more) in success,” she said. “I want us to be able to monetize not based on budget.”
Wandell said Amazon’s approach remained a work in progress. “We’re a service that’s a couple years old,” he said. “Give us a moment to figure it out.”
Epix president and CEO Mark Greenberg cited the increasing shift to ad-free SVOD viewing as a “real adjustment” for the business. “There’s a generation of viewers who are becoming accustomed to seeing everything without commericals,” he said.
Charlie Corwin, co-CEO of Endemol Shine North America, said that the move at many channels away from TV ratings as the ultimate arbiter of success has been good for the creative community. Channels now “have the ability to stick with a show longer and see if an audience builds.”
The panelists agreed that market forces will eventually clear out a glut of shows if in fact 400-plus is too much for the eco-system to sustain. “If people aren’t watching the show, it will go away. Eyeballs matter,” Benedek said.
Another point of consensus was the dichotomy between the fact that a hit show on broadcast TV remains the biggest potential payday for creatives, and yet top talent is flocking to other outlets.
“They will freely forsake that to go somewhere they can really write something they’re going to be proud of,” Levine said. Benedek concurred: “The place where (creative) people are least likely to go to is conventional broadcast network television,” he said, although he quickly added (probably mindful that pilot season is in full swing): “That’s not to say there aren’t excellent shows on network television.”
(Pictured from left: Mark Greenberg, Gary Levine, Sandra Stern, Morgan Wandell, Peter Benedek, Charlie Corwin and moderator Jon Erlichman)