TV Entering ‘Age of Disruption,’ Per HRTS Kickoff Lunch

Binge viewing, cord-cutting among the trends chewed over during State of the Industry forum

Ted Harbert
Jordan Strauss/WireImage

The TV industry is “entering an age of disruption,” NBC Broadcasting Chairman Ted Harbert said Tuesday, during a wide-ranging discussion about the state of the business as part of the Hollywood Radio and Television Society’s annual fall-season kickoff lunch.

Although most of the panelists indicated they don’t see the system being completely undermined any time soon, Harbert (pictured) acknowledged that trends like binge viewing — where consumers watch shows in great, on-their-own-schedule gulps — were a threat to the existing model. “We are training [viewers] to do it, but we don’t know if it’s a good idea or not,” he said, adding that as with all new forms of viewing, the trick was measuring and monetizing it.

HBO Programming Prez Michael Lombardo also expressed concern regarding the proliferation of new outlets driving up the price and commitments necessary to secure premium series, calling the pressure to order full seasons of new shows in advance “the bane of my existence,” cutting the sentence short as he noticed a table of agents in the audience.

Tim Spengler, CEO of the ad firm Magna Global, said the future would rely on far more targeted marketing, as opposed to simply buying up commercials willy-nilly. “If you’re on the toilet I want to serve you a Charmin ad while you’re on the john,” he said, eliciting a mix of laughter and groans from the audience.

FX Networks CEO John Landgraf suggested some perceived trends are being overstated, suggesting that cord-cutting — people dropping their cable subscriptions to consume programs more inexpensively through other avenues — was not as yet a widespread phenomenon. He also second-guessed CBS’ approach in allowing episodes of “Under the Dome” to be made available via Amazon, noting that cutting off access to the show would have provided more powerful leverage in its protracted summer standoff with Time Warner Cable.

As has become common at such events, there was also some grumbling regarding Netflix, and the service’s resistance to issue ratings data pertaining to its original programming. Landgraf noted that magazines can make an informed decision about whether to feature something like HBO’s “Game of Thrones” based on its demonstrable popularity, while Netflix was essentially asking others to take its success on faith.

Harbert expressed satisfaction with the premiere ratings for “The Million Second Quiz” — a multimedia gameshow NBC launched on Monday night — and reiterated that the network had followed its own timetable in moving to promote Jimmy Fallon to host “The Tonight Show,” despite Jay Leno’s continued success in that role.

Prodded by moderator Michael Schneider of TV Guide to admit a guilty viewing pleasure, Hulu’s Andy Forssell came up with “The Bachelorette,” and Lombardo cited Discovery’s “Naked & Afraid.”