It speaks volumes about the tug of war within the smallscreen biz that the winter Television Critics Assn. press tour opens with Netflix-hosted panel sessions followed by a tutorial on TV Everywhere authenticated streaming offerings.
The winter tour bows Wednesday and runs through Jan. 20 at the Langham Huntington hotel in Pasadena, Calif. The twice-yearly showcase of execs and talent offers media a chance to check the pulse of major broadcast and cable networks, while the nets spin and schmooze, wine and dine in an effort to grab some ink — mostly digital, these days — for high-priority new shows.
Netflix content chief Ted Sarandos kicks off the executive jawboning bright and early at 9 a.m. on Wednesday, followed by panels on three new series including “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,” the Tina Fey-produced comedy starring Ellie Kemper that was originally ordered by NBC.
At noon, a clutch of cable execs take over with a demonstration of TV Everywhere, a session that might be billed as the traditional pay TV biz’s antidote to Netflix.
But the fact that there’s still a need to explain how TV Everywhere works is evidence that the initiative, first championed by Comcast and Time Warner in 2009, has been handicapped by low awareness and a lack of uniformity across MVPDs. Beyond that, the even bigger issue that TV Everywhere embodies is the conflict within the biz about the best approach to licensing network and cable content to Netflix and other SVOD players.
Some cable programmers are pushing to hold back rights to current series in order to boost TV Everywhere authenticated streaming services to ensure that users still maintain a traditional pay TV subscription — revenue that is vital to the bottom lines of showbiz’s major congloms.
But in other cases, the millions on the table from Netflix are too rich for producers to pass up — witness the deals cut by Warner Bros. and Sony last year for rights to past seasons of “Gotham” and “The Blacklist,” respectively. CBS and HBO’s recent embrace of over-the-top distribution has only muddied these waters.
At Wednesday’s TCA sesh, however, the focus is likely to stay on the technical side of TV Everywhere, avoiding the tougher programming questions. But expect the subject of the mainstreaming of OTT distribution to be a running theme of the January gathering.
Among the other highlights of the first leg of the January TCA tour:
- ESPN panel on “SportsCenter” changes should be emotional following the death Sunday of beloved anchor Stuart Scott. (Jan. 7)
- Rich Ross, late of Disney and Shine America, returns to TCA fresh from a long vacation for his first formal appearance as prexy of Discovery Channel (Jan. 8)
- HBO offers the first glimpse of Queen Latifah channeling blues legend Bessie Smith in the Dee Rees-directed telepic “Bessie” (Jan. 8)
- A&E unveils its entry into the undead TV sweepstakes with “The Returned,” Carlton Cuse’s remake of the hit French drama “Les Revenants.” (Jan. 9)
- An evening reception with pirates and highlanders will be followed by drinks with vikings, as Starz and History battle to impress scribes with cocktails and costumes. (Jan. 9)
- You gotta feel for the folks on AMC’s “Halt and Catch Fire” panel. They’re sandwiched in the slot between “Better Call Saul” (pictured) and “Mad Men,” two shows sure to get the TCA troops revved up. (Jan. 10)
- Larry Wilmore meets the press to unveil Comedy Central’s “The Nightly Show.” (Jan. 10)
- The CW draws the short straw in presenting on Sunday, when many reporters will be preoccupied by covering the Golden Globes. To fortify attendance, the net is offering up a geek-magnet panel highlighting heroes and villains of “Arrow” and “The Flash.” (Jan. 11)