TV, Film Execs Talk On-Demand World at Milken Conference

Mark Burnett

The on-demand world has forced studios and networks to adapt as digital competitors emerge. With that change has come a shift in how top entertainment executives think about brand.

“There’s so much out there for consumers to choose from that [when] people watch shows and when they watch movies, they don’t wake up and say, ‘I’m going to watch an NBC show or a Paramount picture,” NBC Entertainment chairman Bob Greenblatt said Tuesday at the Milken Institute Global Conference in Beverly Hills, Calif. “They go to the thing they’ve heard about, that speaks to them, that they connect with emotionally, and that’s fine to me. I’m happy to have them branded on the home network, and then beyond that I’m just happy to have people find my shows among literally the thousands of shows that are out there.”

Greenblatt was joined by top television, film, and digital executives at a panel moderated by Variety‘s Cynthia Littleton.

MGM’s Mark Burnett, whose “The Voice” is the highest-rated unscripted program on television and airs on NBC, said that the franchise has had to evolve in a multiplatform world.

“At one point ‘The Voice’ was only available on NBC or NBC.com,” Burnett said. “We quickly figured out that wasn’t smart. ‘The Voice’ should be available everywhere.” Clips from “The Voice” and additional programming under the brand’s umbrella are now pushed out over multiple social-media and digital-video platforms. “It ends up driving the mothership and providing our content to more and more people.”

Discussing the international marketplace, Greenblatt also addressed the recent $31 billion bid by NBCUniversal parent Comcast for European pay-TV giant Sky. “I would say we’re going to move forward through the process very collegially,” he said.

Susanne Daniels, head of global content for YouTube, pointed out that in a multiplatform world, successful content becomes uncoupled from the primary brand responsible for it.

“More people associate ‘Carpool Karaoke’ with YouTube than they do with CBS,” she said, referring to the popular segment from the Eye’s “Late Late Show With James Corden.”

Burnett said that the most aggressive force in the programming marketplace, right now, Netflix, is not necessarily the most ideal partner.

“Netflix is less attractive for me,” Burnett said, because the streaming service buys up all international rights to a program, eliminating potentially lucrative monetization possibilities for a producer. Burnett continued, “I’m not a fee producer. I want to own my IP around the world.”

Burnett also dismissed what he characterized as Netflix’s limited ambition when it comes to exploiting its customers.

“I’ve paid for Netflix for more than a decade,” Burnett said. “I have no relationship with them. I only get their shows. I think that future would be, how do you take that relationship of paying for content into a much bigger relationship? Selling travel services, banking services, all the things that you can do.” He favorably cited Amazon’s ability to monetize its customers in multiple ways. “I’m getting content from them but I’m also buying stuff from them, so I have a deeper relationship with Amazon.”

Lionsgate TV chairman Kevin Beggs added, “All the brands and platforms have different characteristics and values. So what it really becomes about these days, because there are so many choices for everyone, buyers and sellers, is finding the right series at the right platform where it will be most viable for years to come.”

The growth of on-demand programming has also impacted the feature film business. Paramount Pictures CEO Jim Gianopulos, however, downplayed the negative effects.

“I think there’s a lot of discussion about changes in the theatrical market,” Gianopulos said. He then noted that last year’s U.S. box office was down only modestly from the year prior. “For us, this is a great time for content creators and storytellers. The opportunities are literally endless.”