A full day of keynote interviews and panel discussion at Variety‘s Entertainment and Technology Summit in L.A. delved into the future of the media business, and the big bets that industry players are making to get there. Here are some of the key takeaways from Thursday’s event, held at the Four Seasons Hotel Los Angeles at Beverly Hills.
Bundles will continue to reform in a digital-streaming world: FX Networks boss John Landgraf talked about the cable network group’s future as part of Disney. One of his points: bundles will still be crucial to achieve scale. “Fifty million people are not going to buy a single branded service,” Landgraf said, calling out the FX Plus authenticated SVOD service. “It has to be bundled and aggregated into larger, more convenient ways of buying.”
AT&T placing bets on digital media: The telco, with the buyout of Otter Media from former partner Chernin Group, wants to build multiple digital-first, fan-centric brands that will endure for years to come, said Otter Media CEO Tony Goncalves (pictured above). He put it this way: AT&T would consider it a huge win if Otter Media has 10-20 such properties “and two of them end up being billion-dollar brands a decade from now.”
Internet distribution has disrupted pay TV’s economics: There will be winners and losers from video-streaming businesses that have undercut the pricing models of traditional TV ecosystem, said Brian Sullivan, president/COO of Fox Networks Group. At some point, upstarts that have been fueling their growth through debt financing will have to find a sustainable economic path forward. In any case, the biggest winners from the change are consumers, he noted: “As we’ve moved from big [TV] bundles of $100 or more to skinny bundles of $10 if you’re Netflix… the value transfer of that money has gone into the pocket of the consumer.”
Focus on content to serve your audience — never mind what else is out there: Kelly Day, president of Viacom Digital Studios, said the company doesn’t think about programming competitively, in terms of what other kinds of content is also being posted to platforms, so much as determining what type of content and talent is the best fit for each platform.
How “failures” can provide the experience to do something brand new: Sophia Amoruso, founder of digital-media and events startup Girlboss, talked about how the experience of launching fashion venture Nasty Gal and then seeing it go through Chapter 11 bankruptcy provided the foundation her to write her book “#Girlboss.” And that led to a Netflix series (she said Ted Sarandos’ daughter was a fan of the book) and now a company focused on empowering and connecting women.
Will Twitch-like commentary on streaming video realize the vision for “social TV”? Scener, a startup incubated by streaming-media company RealNetworks, demo’d its newly launched service that lets anyone provide video commentary synced up with content on Netflix, Hulu or YouTube. Asked about the flameout of previous “social TV” attempts, Scener co-founder Joe Braidwood cited the rise and fall of Myspace as prefiguring the arrival of category-defining Facebook.
Facebook Watch partners still waiting on ads: Colby Smith, SVP of content and partnerships for ABC News, said Facebook’s massive user base gives the news outlet valuable distribution for its live coverage and on-demand shows — but he said the ability to monetize that content is still lagging. On a separate panel, Mina Lefevre, head of development and programming for Facebook Watch, said as the company enters the second year of Watch and rolls it out internationally, remains primarily focused on bringing on board programming that will spawn conversation and communities on the world’s biggest social platform.
Instagram exploring IGTV monetization to take on YouTube: In a similar vein, Instagram remains in exploration mode about how to help creators make money from IGTV, its recently launched long-form video product. That said, the Facebook-owned social service has seen broad traction for IGTV with users ranging from individual creators (like comedian and Instagram star Anwar Jibawi, who appeared on stage) to Hollywood studios, according to Ashley Yuki, head of product for IGTV.
Radio isn’t dead, and the internet has boosted the audio biz: Adrienne Pabst, SVP of Connections for iHeartMedia, said the radio-station group and audio-streaming company has seen growth in listeners across all platforms, including even in terrestrial broadcast radio (iHeartRadio has 273 million monthly broadcast listeners, 120 million registered digital users, and 131 million social followers). “The audio revolution looks exactly like the digital revolution,” she told attendees. One of the biggest challenges for iHeartMedia and other audio players, Pabst said, is overcoming perceptions among some marketers that streaming audio doesn’t deliver the same impact as video.
Amazon building more voice-enabled features for TV devices: The popularity of Amazon’s Fire TV devices — including the Fire TV Stick dongle, the highest-rated product out of everything the e-commerce giant sells — stems from making setup and usage as easy as possible, said Sandeep Gupta, VP of product development for Amazon Fire TV. He said the most-requested new features from customers are related to voice-enabled commands, evidence that the recently launched Fire TV Cube (which allows far-field voice controls) has met a need in the market.