TV to lose mass appeal, warns HRTS panel

Ex-Yahoo CEO: Digital to 'shred' broadcast auds

The TV industry could be in for a rude awakening given the progress being made on programming for digital platforms–if the panelists at the Hollywood Radio & Television Society’s new/digital media luncheon Tuesday are correct.

“I think network ratings, be they broadcast or cable, will be absolutely shredded within five years,” predicted Ross Levinsohn, former interim CEO at Yahoo. “The fragmentation of the audience occurring right now even in the last six months is dramatic.”

Levinsohn, who did his time at traditional media firms like News Corp. before his stint at Yahoo, explained that the audience targeting possible online is bound to steal away an increasing amount of ad dollars from TV, where the inefficiency of ad buys and and imprecision of viewer measurement pales by comparison. He also doesn’t see the paucity of TV hits on broadcast right now as a cyclical trend.

Allen DeBevoise, CEO of broadband network Machinima, envisions companies like his eating into TV auds with their ability to grab niche audiences on a global scale, making the broadcast strategy of being all things to all viewers increasingly difficult.

“‘Walking Dead’ is a loud, screaming example of a super-targeted series,” he said of the AMC series, which has bested broadcast TV shows in the ratings. “I think the problem only gets worse when you start thinking about the online world.”

Vivi Zigler, president of digital at Shine America, sees a cultural divide between Hollywood and Silicon Valley that has only just begun to be bridged.

“They don’t speak the same language, they might as well be from different planets,” she observed. “But an emerging culture in the middle is developing the art of translation, trying to bring them both to bear.”

As good as YouTube has been to a funded channel like AwesomenessTV, a venture led by Varsity Pictures president Brian Robbins, he also sees the importance of promoting content to get the word out.

“There’s a lot of content out there, more competition than even on the broadcast side,” he noted. “Uou have to market and build an audinece by marketing.”

But not everyone on the panel, moderated by MediaLink CEO Michael Kassan, saw it as an us vs. then dynamic. Scott Koondel, senior VP and chief corporate content licensing officer at CBS Corp., sees digital platforms only maximizing the value of TV content, especially the serialized content that was once a challenge to support.

“This is good for everyone in this town,” he said. “It creates more opportunities to get content out there and keep people working.”

Koondel couldn’t resist a good-natured poke at Machinima, noting the difficulty of traditional media has launching web-native programming.

“We’re thinking about doing our own version at CBS called Meshuggenah,” cracked Koondel.