Television’s evolution is only getting started, said Netflix’s Ted Sarandos, Sony Pictures Television president Steve Mosko and AMC COO Ed Carroll Monday night at Chapman University panel “The New Era of Television.” The three execs took the stage at the Sony Backstage Theater to talk to students from the Chapman Dodge College of Film and Media Arts and touched on the changing entertainment business and how television is rolling with the punches.
“I remember when Netflix was a DVD mailer company,” said Mosko, earning laughs as he kicked off the discussion of what makes television today different from television yesterday.
Carroll noted that the evolution of Netflix and the commonality of binge watching “has really challenged all of the linear networks to up their game.” The panelists discussed the industry’s past habit of sticking to the syndication model and how procedural and episodic stories like “Law & Order” allowed viewers to jump in and out of series without missing anything. “The detectives left the office and no one cared,” said Carroll. But now audiences are hungry for deeper, more personal stories, partially thanks to Netflix and the now-commonplace ability to call up entire seasons of series with a click.
“People found that they had a much wider landscape that they could tell on television because you didn’t have to worry that if the audience missed the show they would be gone,” he said.
“I think the consumer control, the on-demand is the thing that there’s no turning back from,” added Sarandos, focusing on audiences’ desire to control their own time, whether that means consuming all of “House of Cards” in a weekend, or starting a broadcast series 15 minutes later on the night it airs.
Time shifting “challenges for shows to be urgent,” said Carroll. “It’s more challenging for networks to make sure that people don’t want to just stick [a show] on their DVR and wait a month.”
When asked if there’s concern at AMC about increases in cord-cutting, Caroll answered that “it basically comes down to ‘make good content and good things will happen.'” He added that Netflix plays a part in the network’s success, with syndication rights for hits like “Breaking Bad.” “If you make good shows, wherever you consume stuff we have a chance of getting that to you and getting paid for it,” he said. “I just don’t think we can worry about too much else.”
But the major change has already happened, said Mosko. “The entertainment industry will be driven by the television business and not the movie business,” he said, adding that television used to be the industry’s “bastard child” and is now a creative mecca. “I think the motion picture business is still a great business, but there’s just so much television being produced — and so much good television being produced. A lot of the big creative moves are coming out of television as well — and that’s exciting.”
“In five years it’s gone from ‘you can’t make a TV series about that’ to reading that script and saying, ‘Someone’s going to make this TV series,'” said Carroll. “Everything won’t work, but the way we keep score has changed.”
Sarandos called out the upcoming “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” as an example. Tina Fey and Robert Carlock’s comedy following Kimmy, who tries to reclaim her life in New York City after being held by a cult for 15 years, was originally intended for NBC’s primetime schedule but has since landed at Netflix.
“It’s such a unique show from such a unique point of view that it’s very difficult to program around,” Sarandos pointed out. He commented on the challenges of traditional programming models as a hindrance to certain series that, like “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,” are “so not for broadcast,” but need a home somewhere.
“There will be too many platforms when all of them don’t have enough good content,” said Carroll of the overabundance of choices now available for viewers. “Bingeing is a fun way to watch televison,” he said, but “the anticipation of watching every week, the communal feeling that everyone wanted to see [a show] and talk about it the next day, and take it to social media, that’s fun too.”
“I don’t think there’s a saturation point,” Sarandos concluded. “It’s like I’ve never heard anyone complain that there are too many great restaurants. Everyone just has to find their favorite.”