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Network Chiefs on Difficult Decisions, Increased Competition and Diversity Initiatives

JERUSALEM — Big spenders like Netflix may have led to increased competition for talent and viewers, but broadcast and cable are still finding ways to break through. That was the consensus of the “Ultimate Power Panel” — a session that gathered some of TV’s top network chiefs at the INTV Conference in Israel, moderated by WME TV head Rick Rosen.

The panel — dubbed “Rick Rosen and his entourage” — included HBO president Casey Bloys, Showtime CEO David Nevins, Fox Television Group chair Gary Newman, and Turner chief content officer Kevin Reilly. “I have to say, this is kind of crazy,” said Rosen at the top of the panel.

Rosen kicked off the panel by asking each about a difficult decision they had to make when they first started their jobs. Bloys talked about deciding to cancel “Vinyl,” which had premiered right when he started but disappointed both creatively and in ratings. “Typically HBO would give a second season, but I had to make the choice whether to spend the money on this or other things coming up,” he said. “In the job a few months, canceling a Martin Scorsese-executive produced show is not easy,” he said. Quipped Rosen, “It did not resonate well in my building.”

Newman cited deciding to invest in “Empire” with the full weight of their marketing during his first midseason in his role overseeing the network. “The first decision was a good one, but many bad ones followed,” he joked. Nevins talked about convincing Newman to sell “Homeland” to Showtime, while for Reilly, it was sorting out the brand positions on his plate.

The panel also delved into how they deal with increased competition in the light of increased spending by streamers like Netflix and the other Silicon Valley companies. Bloys said despite the perception, it’s not “a zero-sum game” with Netflix, citing subscription growth in the face of increased competition. “The streaming services have been good for television in general,” he said. “I don’t think someone else’s success is someone else’s detriment.”

Weighing in with a broadcast perspective, Newman said the complication they face is that frequently their competitors are also their buyers. “You can’t get your feelings hurt or hold a grudge,” he said. “Because you might lose to them today, but tomorrow they might be buying something from you.”

“These guys are all my competition,” said Nevins. “We’re all competing with each other for the attention of an audience and subscribers for their dollars.”

One of the issues they all face is consumer confusion about what network airs their shows, whether it’s “Billions” on Showtime or “Silicon Valley” on HBO. “We compete to get credit for the shows that we have,” said Nevins.

While Reilly acknowledged that ad loads have to be reduced across the board, he defended ad-supported television. “It is here to stay,” he said. “It is irreplaceable for advertisers, no matter how good you can get the algorithm.”

Rosen then turned the subject to diversity, pointing out as “five white guys” they need to address the rising calls for parity in front of and behind the camera. (Quipped Bloys, “Not all straight.”)

Newman pointed to his track record of on-screen inclusivity with shows like “Empire” and “Star” while acknowledging that they need to do better behind the camera. “That’s something we’ve been looking at,” he said. “Our shows are just better when there are diverse viewpoints in the writers’ room.”

Nevins said Showtime is “pretty close to 50/50” with show creators in terms of gender balance. “There’s diversity of people behind the camera, and there’s diversity in what we’re projecting out into the world,” he said.

Bloys said “staying mindful” is important, pointing out that more than half of his direct reports are women. “There’s not one programming decision that I don’t discuss with a woman somewhere on my team,” he said. 

And Reilly said he doesn’t “like initiatives or programs,” he said. “I like putting people into jobs who are thoughtful and diverse and let them do their jobs, and the rest takes care of itself.”

 

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