The annual Variety TV Summit kicks off on June 13, with industry leaders gathering to discuss the state of a medium that has undergone profound changes in an incredibly short time span.
Among the topics of discussion this year is the future of the premium TV business. Audiences are becoming more and more fragmented, with the definition of what makes a hit now completely different than even 10 years ago. In the age of peak TV, in which reboots and revivals are all the rage, is it possible to bring something new to the traditional broadcast model?
“Honestly, and without sounding like a politician, I’m not sure that it’s possible to bring anything ‘new’ to broadcast drama,” “This Is Us” creator Dan Fogelman says. “There have been so many great ones. Any show is an amalgam of a lot of different, moving parts — most of which have been tried before — and on occasion these parts wind up working well together and the show becomes a thing unto itself.”
Even if “This Is Us” did not necessarily bring anything new to broadcast, the show was nevertheless the undisputed breakout hit of the 2016-17 season. It averaged a 4.8 rating in adults 18-49 and 15.3 million viewers per episode, according to Nielsen Live+7 data. Series cast members Chrissy Metz and Justin Hartley will join the summit for the “This Is Us” keynote panel, along with showrunners Isaac Aptaker and Elizabeth Berger, as well as executive producers Glenn Ficarra and John Requa.
Yet while broadcast series like “This Is Us” continue to hold sway over the market place, new shows are cropping up in unlikely places. Consider the new IFC series “Brockmire.” The series began as a digital short for “Funny or Die” in 2010 starring Hank Azaria, with Azaria then developing it as a series at IFC. According to Azaria, being able to make the jump from digital to traditional TV is “thrilling.”
“Actually, it’s quite thrilling to me on several levels,” he says. “The digital world is a great place to try out ideas with very low risk. If folks love it, it goes viral. If it’s not funny or compelling, nobody pays attention to it. You can work out the kinks and make mistakes and learn what’s interesting and appealing and what isn’t while having a lot of fun at the same time. It allows guys like Marc Maron, myself, even Justin Bieber, to invent or reinvent themselves in a way that wasn’t possible 10 years ago. Mostly, I just wanted to compare myself to Justin Bieber. Mission accomplished.”
That risk clearly paid off, with IFC renewing the series for a second season even before the first had premiered. Azaria will take part in a panel discussion about the series.
The summit will also tackle the challenges faced by marketers in the increasingly competitive TV space. Executives must not only figure out ways to get people watching on traditional platforms, but also how to attract eyeballs across new media.
“There are so many choices for consumers today, and you really need to convince them that you have something unique and valuable, which of course we do,” Showtime chief marketing officer Don Buckley tells Variety. “Therefore, we must be very creative, not only in messaging but in how we deploy the message and on what platforms. It requires a keen awareness of the marketplace, which changes literally from day to day.”
Buckley, who’ll be taking part in a roundtable With chief marketing officers from across the industry, says that new platforms do offer distinct advantages for marketers, such as the ability to gather data on viewer preferences and habits on an unprecedented level, as well as forcing those behind marketing decisions to get more creative.
“As digital platforms evolve, they present us with both intriguing and incredibly useful new opportunities to create new kinds of materials,” he says, pointing to Snapchat’s filters and YouTube’s pre-roll lengths as examples. “We’re freed from the conventions of televised spots. Sometimes it’s a six-second spot that’s the best tool for us. When you impose those limitations on creative people, it simply prompts them to be more creative. Words, images, animations, short video, all deployed in consideration of audience and platform specificity, is what we must all be doing. And if you stop learning, you fail.”