Media Growth Spurt on Agenda at Variety Entertainment and Technology Summit

The rapid expansion of media and technology has made a profound impact upon the ways in which consumers can view entertainment. It’s this expansion — or explosion — that has dramatically changed the ways in which content is told and marketed, from virtual reality storytelling and 360-video space to over-the-top content and podcasting.

For Rob Hayes, executive vice president, digital, NBC Entertainment, the availability of NBC’s content via on-demand services like Hulu and YouTube is nothing short of game-changing.

“I like the user experience on those — Hulu has taken on an interesting approach, which is an OTT, TV-centric user experience, [while] YouTube is a mobile approach,” says Hayes, one of this year’s speakers at Variety’s Entertainment and Technology Summit to be held Sept. 7 at the Four Seasons Beverly Hills. “It’ll be interesting to see how those evolve.” 

Coleman Breland, president of content experiences, FilmStruck and Turner Classic Movies, is equally excited by the array of formats available to consumers.
“Streaming is natural and common,” he says. “AR and VR appear most relevant and natural in the gaming business. And gaming is already on a very nice growth trajectory in entertainment spend.”

Kay Madati, executive vice president of digital media at BET Networks, sees the choices and formats as the means for his network to achieve its long-term goals.

“When I see all these technologies and platforms, I borrow [Netflix CEO and co-founder] Reed Hastings’ phrase,” he says. “He has always aspired for Netflix to be ubiquitous — accessible wherever you are, on any device, at any time. Whether it’s on linear or digital platforms, this is the future. If we cannot be relevant and find innovative ways to tell stories in all these different formats, we won’t be relevant in the future.”

But which element is in the driver’s seat: the tech or the content?

“If it’s organic to the storytelling or programming, it should be a natural experiences,” says Hayes. “It shouldn’t be forced.” He cites NBC’s “alternative and reality” programming as a prime example of both sides working in harmony. “‘The Voice’ is a very interactive show, and we’ve developed a companion app that really allows the audience to engage and even contribute to the results and the voting mechanisms. So when that feels right and organic to the story or program, I think it’s very natural.”

Marketing, too, can co-exist and work harmoniously with technology, if the interaction is a fluid and natural experience. As Breland explains, “the key is mastering the correct mix of marketing for a particular audience, being able to measure the activity, and possessing the flexibility to adapt and pivot mid-stream.”

The uptick in media tech in the last five years has provided an almost limitless number of content-viewing options, but with so many choices, consumers can start to feel overwhelmed.

“I think that a wide array of content may fundamentally overwhelm, but there’s no one person that’s going to be able to watch all the great things that are on all of the platforms,” says Madati, who believes that making sure that there is quality content for viewers and then “keeping them connected to why it’s interesting on a multi-platform basis is even more important.”

Breland adds: “How do we choose what content is worth the exchange of our most precious commodity of time? We’re witnessing some of the best writing in the history of entertainment, while at the same time, user-generated content — and that includes a simple photo posted on Instagram or Snapchat — competes for our time.”

So where does entertainment and technology go from this point? 

For Madati, it will be greater, more cohesive interaction between traditional media content and platforms like Netflix or Twitter.
“My crystal ball says that those ‘frenemies’ come together, and at the end of things, it’s about bringing content to people in a highly distributed fashion on the platforms they love.”

As Hayes sees it, television viewership will continue to grow while also exploring new venues of storytelling to increase connectivity. “I think that AI is a really exciting area and we’re in its infancy now,” he says. “Five years from now, we’ll see great examples from that technology on how it’ll extend an entertainment experience.”

And for Breland, it comes down to one question: “Will the best-produced show win [fans] or will a good show with the right mix of personalization and community, stoked by tech, prove triumphant?” 

Though colored by emerging tech and intelligence, the answer, he says, may still come down to personal choice.

“Each person will have to decide what degree of tech they want meshing into their entertainment life. But make no mistake, immersion and a deeper experience are becoming the norm.”

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