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NATPE 2019: TV Biz Hopes What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Stronger

MIAMI — Kelly Clarkson’s plucky spirit was a good fit with the mood of the market as TV station owners, buyers from around the world and industry executives gathered here this week for the annual National Association of Television Program Executives conference.

Much of the conversation at the conference and in the corridors of Miami Beach’s Fontainebleau Hotel revolved around the challenges that traditional media face in a fast-changing TV landscape. The hurdles are high for TV’s original OTT players — local TV stations and broadcast networks — but there was a sense of renewed determination to find new hits and to leverage strengths.

Local TV stations have been buffeted for the past few years by shrinking audiences, particularly in daytime, and heightened competition from digital competitors for advertising dollars. Executives emphasized the need to capitalize on the localism and broad awareness that defines broadcast TV.

“A lot of people have tried this local (media) and have had limited success. It’s hard,” said Fox Television Stations CEO Jack Abernethy. “We have boots on the ground. We have sales teams that know the local advertisers. We have news people who are plugged into the community. So we have a big advantage there.”

Country-pop superstar Clarkson made a splash at the conference with a concert performance on Tuesday night to promote her new daytime talk-variety show, “The Kelly Clarkson Show,” set to bow in the fall from NBCUniversal’s syndication group. Clarkson’s career, launched when she prevailed in 2002 as the first-ever winner of “American Idol,” is in many ways a testament to the power of big-tent television. Clarkson’s five-song set included her 2011 smash “Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You),” which is an apt anthem for the industry at present.

“It’s go big or go home where this bit of the business is concerned,” said Paul Telegdy, NBC Entertainment co-chairman as he ushered Clarkson to the stage. NBCUniversal is rolling the dice on a big-budget launch in the hopes that Clarkson’s fan base and primetime platform as a coach on NBC’s “The Voice” will help drive viewers to the daytime show.

Disney’s syndication arm is investing in former “Today” and MSNBC anchor Tamron Hall as host of a show rooted in one-on-one interviews and compelling personal stories of triumph and overcoming adversity. Meredith Vieira, a TV veteran who is no stranger to syndication, is coming back to daytime as ringmaster of a light-hearted game show “25 Words or Less,” from Fox’s Twentieth Television.

The renewed push to field high-profile talent in daytime also comes as WarnerMedia and NBCUniversal have joined Disney in making ambitious plans to launch streaming platforms to compete in the SVOD territory that Netflix so thoroughly dominates.

Steven Cahall, senior analyst of media and entertainment for RBC Capital Markets, noted that the arm’s race for content and subscription revenue has changed the behavior of both the disruptors and the disrupted. Netflix over the past two years is becoming more studio-like in its content expenditures rather than acquiring so much finished product from Hollywood. Meanwhile, media’s big guns are grappling with how to shift to a subscription-based business model rather than the old mantra — epitomized by the wheeling and dealing at NATPE — of selling TV shows and movies to the highest bidders.

“The digital guys for the first time are starting to act more traditional and the traditional guys are acting a little more digital,” he said on a panel with other top Wall Street media analysts. 

Cahall cited the mind-boggling fact that Netflix spends $1 billion on content for every $1 a month that they charge customers

“It’s a ratio so out of whack, but everybody now has to skate to that puck,” he said. “That’s the disruption.”

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