Dick Wolf’s telco testimony

Producer dishes on what won't work on next-gen platforms

What’s the future of scripted programming on next-gen platforms like IPTV? Top tube producer and Telecom Hollywood speaker Dick Wolf insists he hasn’t a clue. But he has a pretty good idea about what won’t work.

WHY TELECOM HOLLYWOOD?: “As a content supplier, I’m fascinated with what people are selling right now. And if any content supplier can stand up and say they have any idea right now about what the future is for scripted entertainment and its revenue streams, they’re either brain dead or a liar.

“Nobody knows if (the media platform of the future is) going to be cell phones, iPods or the BlackBerry … But no matter what standard is ultimately used, we’ve got to figure out where the money is coming from to put these programs on the air. Because one thing you can be sure of is that once you take away what has been the broadcast model of selling 30 seconds of air to advertisers, you are going to have big problems.”

TWO WORDS — DOWNLOAD FEES: “I’m not sure if downloads are the worst thing that’s happened to content suppliers or the best thing, but you can do the math.

Let’s say five years from now the ‘Desperate Housewives’ of 2010 gets downloaded a million times per episode. (At $1.99 a download), that’s a gross of $44 million per season. On the current two-thirds split, that’s $30 million for ABC for 22 episodes. That doesn’t include profit participants or the studio, of course, so let’s say ($30 million) is cut 50-50 with the studio and everybody else. To the network, that’s a grand total of $15 million — and 22 episodes of a hit like that are worth a lot more than that.”

MAKE CHEAPER PROGRAMMING THEN: “When it all becomes one big box, it will still be television, and the audience is still going to demand a certain level of standards, or they’re not going to watch. And right now, the bar is set at a minimum of $2 million an episode. I still remember watching a pilot that was shot for around a million dollars six years ago with a network executive, who is really smart. It looked like shit — it was missing things like close-ups, and they just didn’t have enough money to do it right. And I fell on the floor when this guy turned to me and said, ‘Boy, that looks like a million bucks.’ It was the ultimate expression of ‘you get what you pay for.’ ”

HOW ABOUT INTEGRATED SPONSORSHIP?: “I’m sorry, but that’s bullshit. My father was in the business in the ’50s, when advertisers had leased air time. But even when they owned the programming, the actors might smoke Lucky Strikes, and they suddenly might turn around and do a Lucky Strike commercial, but you never saw 28 Lucky Strike wrappers lying on their kitchen table … This is going to solve the networks’ problems? Give me a break.

“I’ve talked to various advertisers about doing sponsored programming where it makes sense. But if it becomes the tail wagging the dog and it becomes an infomercial, who the hell is going to watch it?”