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10 Things We Learned at Variety’s Entertainment Summit at CES 2018

Variety‘s Entertainment Summit in Las Vegas for CES 2018 featured industry leaders weighing in on major topics, including the swiftly tilting landscape for TV and digital media. The all-day event Wednesday drew a sizable crowd at the Aria Resort and Casino, with standing room only for several of the sessions.

Here are our ten biggest takeaways from the summit:

Disney-ABC’s TV Boss Says the Sky Isn’t Falling for Television Biz

Ben Sherwood, president of Disney-ABC Television Group (pictured above), said that “Every decade, the obituaries are written about television. In my view, the sky is not falling. The sky is rising.” He added, “People sometimes mistake watching the television on the wall for television as distribution. There are lots of different ways to distribute the best content.” He said Disney-ABC TV will be the largest single content contributor to Disney’s planned 2019 internet-video subscription service — with the group expecting to supply 7,000-8,000 episodes from its library, plus 3-4 original movies and 3-4 original series, including one based on Disney’s “High School Musical” franchise with the original producers on board.

Hulu Wants to Create Short-Form Original Shows from ‘Emerging Talent’

Hulu chief content officer Joel Stillerman revealed his current strategy for originals, which in addition to tentpole series and prestige content (“The Handmaid’s Tale” fits both bills) will include short-form series incubated from “emerging talent,” he said: “If you have 15 minutes in your day, it would be things you would open and look at in a ways not different from Facebook and YouTube.” Stillerman has a slew of new original programming — in conventional long-form formats — being released on the platform in 2018. Asked to pick a project or two that could really stand out, he went with “Castle Rock,” a J.J. Abrams-produced series that borrows character from Stephen King’s bestselling oeuvre. His second choice: “The Looming Tower,” which traces the rising threat of Osama bin Laden and how it figured into the rivalry between the FBI and CIA.

How ‘The Walking Dead’ Will Ultimately Shuffle Off This Mortal Coil

While it’s been a snarling smash hit for AMC, eventually “The Walking Dead” (currently in its eighth season) will have to come to an end. “We talk about it all the time — how do you make sure it goes as long as it can, while still being a responsible business?” said Charlie Collier, president and GM of AMC, SundanceTV and AMC Studios. “We talk about whenever it ends, that it’s Smithsonian-worthy.” Collier touted the 365-days-per-year fan experience AMC has built around the franchise, but also noted that “it’s a far more expensive show in every way than it was on Day One.”

How to Create Hits, In 10 Words

On the panel “The New Age of Hitmaking,” Croi McNamara, SVP of video programming at Condé Nast Entertainment, summed up her philosophy for producing hit content in exactly 10 words: “Know your audience; use data; lead with emotion; be bold.”

Verizon’s Quick-Turn on Merging AOL and Yahoo

Oath CEO Tim Armstrong sees 2018 as a critical year for taking his business forward now that the Verizon-owned company is coming off many months of integrating its assets including acquisitions AOL and Yahoo. “I’ve never seen a group of people get more done in six months than the combined teams of AOL and Verizon,” said Armstrong. “It puts us in a good place to compete.” The company wouldn’t have been able to focus on cutting a big content deal like its five-year mobile pact with the NFL if it had not gotten its house in order with Oath, Armstrong maintained.

How Awesome Awesomeness’ Parent Companies Are

Rebecca Glashow, head of worldwide distribution at Awesomeness, discussed the advantages of her company’s unique ownership structure, which brings together Comcast’s DreamWorks Animation, Verizon and Hearst Corp. (with Comcast holding the majority stake). In the case of Verizon, the company doubles as both investor and a distribution partner. “I think it highlights the importance of their understanding and connecting with a youth audience, a critical part of mobile-first content,” she said.

Twitter Forages for Film Fans’ Feelings

Twitter unveiled its partnership with 20th Century Fox Film, which began more than a year ago when the studio approached the social network about digging into tweet data to better understand the behavior and emotions of moviegoers who reliably buy tickets to Fox releases. The metrics, according to 20th Century Fox, help paint a much richer picture than basic positive/negative/neutral analysis of social chatter. “You’re able to fish for whales, not just guppies, when you have this data,” Matt Derella, Twitter’s VP of global client solutions, told the audience.

There Is Such a Thing as Too Much Data

Discovery Communications VR VP Rebecca Howard explained that data can be misleading, especially when it comes to cutting-edge media formats. Case in point: Discovery has been producing serialized content for VR headsets, but is also distributing the same assets as 360-degree videos. The latter get a lot more views — but a lot less interaction. The result could be a lot of data suggesting that interactivity doesn’t matter, whereas people using VR headsets really cherish it.

YouTube Parses Its Massive Influx of Content With AI

Neal Mohan, chief product officer at YouTube, noted on the “Future of TV” panel that 400 hours of content are uploaded every minute to the video platform: “There’s almost an infinite amount of diversity of content,” he said. YouTube is increasingly relying on artificial intelligence to sort determine what’s worth watching for individual users: More than 70% of watch time on YouTube is now driven by recommendations based on machine learning, according to Mohan.

Blockchain Has Potential for Entertainment — But There Are Challenges

André Kudelski, chairman and CEO of media-security company Kudelski Group, said media and entertainment industries have a real opportunity to harness the power of blockchain technology, which provides an open and distributed “ledger” to track transactions between two parties. But, Kudelski said, there are hurdles to overcome in establishing the trust in an entertainment-oriented blockchain setup. He also underscored the need for media companies to protect their intellectual property, as piracy continues to emerge in new ways: “If there’s content someone is willing to buy,” he said, “there’s someone willing to steal it.”

— Andrew Wallenstein and Janko Roettgers contributed to this report.

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