So many shows. So many metrics. So many new approaches to selling soap to millennials.
Industry movers and shakers gathered Tuesday for Variety’s annual TV Summit to parse all aspects of the fast-changing business environment. The daylong conference at the Four Seasons in Beverly Hills covered everything from programming and marketing trends to the measurement conundrum to the revolutionary technological innovations that have spurred so much disruption.
Here are 10 things we learned from the array of speakers at the TV Summit:
1. Facebook is focused on finding a better way to harness all of the viideo viewing that is already happening on the social media giant. One of the ways they’re doing that is by experimenting with original series, such as “Last State Standing,” the reality show that was given a series order this week. “It’s going to be a very iterative process,” said Gwen Throckmorton, Facebook’s head of industry for entertainment. The company is experimenting with a range of genres “to help people understand the kind of content that is really going to work on a platform that is very social, very interactive and very mobile.”
2. The “This Is Us” cast is not immune to the tears that the show provokes for many viewers. “I’m a baby. I do cry a lot (while working) on the show,” said Justin Hartley. He also had a message for super-fans who beg him for spoilers. “You think you want them but trust me — you don’t want to know,” he said. Chrissy Metz offered a revealing glimpse at how the show has changed her life. “I bought a couch, finally,” she said.
3. Story House Entertainment, the joint venture of Univision and Fusion, is committed to opening doors for creatives of color. That included recruiting a female showrunner, Silvana Aguirre, for its new drama “El Chapo,” about the notorious Mexican drug lord. “We thought it was important to bring a female perspective to a story that is extremely male,” Camila Jimenez Villa, Co-President and Chief Creative Officer, Fusion Media Group. Story House also took a big swing with the project in shooting three seasons back-to-back.
4. Hank Azaria’s IFC comedy “Brockmire,” about a down and out baseball announcer, was produced on a beer budget — a light beer budget. “We shot eight episodes in 22 days,” he said, proudly. The audience let out an “ooooh.” “I’m still seeing health care professionals about it,” he said. Another fun fact: Azaria bought Jim Brockmire’s trademark red-plaid blazer at the American Rag shop on La Brea Avenue.
5. TV measurement is metastasizing well beyond Nielsen numbers, which means it is slowly but surely catching up to the way people now watch television. It’s been a long time coming, for some industry pros. “I’ve been waiting since 1980 for what we’re getting today. I’m a very patient man,” said David Poltrack, CBS Corp.’s chief research officer. “What we’re seeing is a transition from counting the house to measuring the results.”
6. Look for more original series to blossom on Epix now that the premium cabler is wholly owned by MGM. Going from three owners (MGM, Paramount and Lionsgate) to one means that MGM is more invested in building up Epix as a springboard for series content that can be sold around the world, Epix president Mark Greenberg said. “It’s always good to be in the family,” he said.
7. Ron Howard might have telepathic powers. When National Geographic TV first began developing the Albert Einstein biopic series “Genius” with Imagine TV, the exec team harbored a strong hope that Howard would direct the first episode. Just as Nat Geo exec VP Carolyn Bernstein sat down for a lunch meeting with Howard and Brian Grazer, the Oscar-winning director informed her: “I think I’d like to direct it,” Bernstein recalled. “It was a match made in heaven.”
8. Everybody in the advertising arena is talking about targeting and a coming shift away from age- and gender-based demographics to audience-based guarantees. But Dave Morris, chief revenue of CBS Interactive, was candid about his belief that there won’t be a seismic shift in the next three or four years. “It is a small but growing” component of the business, he said.
9. How hard it is to hold a person’s attention these days? Really hard. “The average adult in the world has an eight-second attention span, which is going down over time,” said Catherine Balsam-Schwaber, chief content officer for Mattel. Millennials and younger consumers have instincts and viewing that are wildly different from older generations, she added.
10. Showtime’s revival of “Twin Peaks” was a marketer’s dream, but it was not without its challenges. Namely, David Lynch. Don Buckley, Showtime’s chief marketing officer, and his team worked on an elaborate campaign using some of the early production footage. Buckley laid out the strategy in a meeting with Lynch where the iconoclastic director served some damn fine doughnuts. Lynch said he loved what he saw but his penchant for secrecy was insurmountable. “Two days later he killed everything we showed,” Buckley said. “The doughnuts were good, though.”
(Pictured: Justin Hartley and Chrissy Metz of “This Is Us”)