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The Real Challenges Facing the Television Industry

· August 12, 2016

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The Hollywood Reporter recently hosted a roundtable with five “TV Titans” concerning the challenges facing the television industry. Copyright infringement was not mentioned even once. Nor was the FCC’s proposed rule opening up the standards for cable set-top boxes. Listening to the narrative in Washington DC, however, would lead you to think these are TV’s greatest challenges.

Instead, the television executives focused on the challenge of adapting to an increasingly competitive landscape with evolving technology and consumer demand. They acknowledge that streaming technology has led to what the industry refers to as Peak TV, the current boom of 400-plus scripted series discussed in my DisCo post here. Netflix’s Ted Sarandos described this as a “golden age of TV.”

But all these programs mean that TV producers need to figure out “how to stand out in that cluttered TV universe.” As Sarandos explained, “everything exists in perpetuity now, so every time we put on a new show, we are competing with everything ever made.”

The executives also recognized that their industry is constantly changing. A & E’s Nancy Dubuc said, “if we were all to come back to this table 10 years from now, our businesses are going to look very different, we’re going to be partnering differently, selling to each other and using our brands differently. And not only do we need to swing for shows on behalf of the audience, but we have to swing with business ideas and strategic ideas to make sure the next generation of creatives have a newly imagined or reimagined way of having their products seen.”

In particular, the executives addressed the need to appeal to millennials. HBO’s Richard Plepler explained that the Vice daily newscast, launching next month, is “designed for millennials” with “digital optionality that we wouldn’t have had before.”

NBCUniversal’s Bonnie Hammer adds that the television networks are “learning to shoot differently, to program differently, to target a whole different audience that doesn’t understand linear, live, scheduled TV.” This means that “there are so many ways we have to experiment, and we’re going to fall on our face.” Hammer further noted that “years ago, something would happen and you had a decade to catch up and figure it out. [Then it was] about five years. Now it’s five weeks.”

The executives stressed the changes wrought by streaming. AMC’s Josh Sapan observed that “there wasn’t streaming a short time ago, and now look how predominant it is.” Netflix’s Sarandos elaborated although Netflix did almost no original production three years ago, “fast forward three years from now and we probably would be producing more original programming than any single source, any single network, and single studio globally. So that’s a big shift.”

But the focus on millennials and streaming means, according to Sarandos, that “we’re not competing against ABC sitcoms, we’re competing against Pokemon Go, we’re competing against the $200 million blockbuster movies.” In other words, TV programming, like all entertainment content, is just another app.

Intellectual Property

The Internet enables the free exchange of ideas and content that, in turn, promote creativity, commerce, and innovation. However, a balanced approach to copyright, trademarks, and patents is critical to this creative and entrepreneurial spirit the Internet has fostered. Consequently, it is our belief that the intellectual property system should encourage innovation, while not impeding new business models and open-source developments.