Macro trends such as TV station consolidation, a changing broadcast model, digital extensions of existing business models, declining cable subscribers, increased subscribers to so-called skinny bundles, expanding streaming platforms and on-demand viewing all are contributing to a challenged syndication landscape, said executives at NAB’s TV2020 Conference on Wednesday in New York.
“This is like a collision of macro trends in a turbo-charged evolutionary environment,” said Ken Werner, president, Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution, who moderated the session.
More to the point: “Major shit is happening here and it is happening all the time and we all have no idea where it is leading,” he said. “All that is taking place in the macro scheme of themes,” But at the end of the day what it still comes down to is the competition for eyeballs.”
Also featured on the panel were Frank Cicha, SVP programming, Fox TV Stations; Arthur Hasson, COO programming, Sinclair Broadcast Group; Mort Marcus, co-president, Debmar-Mercury and Bob Sullivan, SVP programming, Tegna.
“Any business is an evolution,” said Bob Sullivan. “But we are a business and it is about creating new revenue streams. The audience is shredding in front of our eyes, we have to go where they are going, and we have to come up with program models that work better for us as a business.
“What we are uniquely good at as broadcasters is doing shows that are local to our communities. And we are equally as interested in extending our content plays in the multi-platform space as we are creating shows for broadcast linear. We have to be.”
This fall, Tenga launched three shows on various station affiliates: news- and entertainment- themed Daily Blast Live, which also airs on Facebook and YouTube; talk show Sister Circle, which can also be seen on cable net TV One; and weekly competition series Sing Like a Star.
“The first-run stuff is very important but it is also evolving and I think there are new realities in first-run,” said Cicha. “What we need to focus on the strong local projects, the strong local news programming, and build upon that with shows that make sense in that environment. And to that end, I think it is a lot of day and date, sort of DVR-proof stuff that is immediate.”
This past summer, the Fox Television Stations tested seven shows amongst its various stations: game show IWitness created by Judge Judy Sheindlin; comedy Punchline; off-Bravo Watch What Happens Live; Gordon Ramsay’s Culinary Genius, which also aired on the UK’s ITV; court show Ana Polo Rules, starring Latina judge Polo; and two locally-produced talkers, The Jason Show and The Q.
“You can’t say no to any genre — you have look at everything,” said Cicha. “And we have tested everything from game shows to cooking shows.”
“We need more hit shows,” added Mort Marcus. “We wish Sinclair and Tribune and ABC and NBC and Tegna … we wish everybody would test shows. If you think about it, that is what the networks do all the time. They don’t commit to 44 episodes up front, which is effectively a test.”
Hasson this fall launched on Sinclair-owned stations CBS Television Distribution’s Daily Mail TV, a mix of breaking stories and showbiz with social integration. Like Cicha, Hasson acknowledges the value of first-run programming even in this rapidly shifting landscape.
“Shows coming off the network now don’t have the awareness and visibility they once did,” said Hasson, pointing to the fact that off-network shows are lower-rated than ever before.
“So, when an off-network show comes into syndication it is really now no different than a first- run show. First-run is more pertinent because we can build it like we do news. Whether it is a talk show or a game show, or other genres, it is part of the experience of linear television. It is fun programming to watch, it is not intense like a scripted or serialized drama, and that type of programming has a place forever in our business.”
“All good shows are important to us,” he added. “While the business model may be changing, these categories of part of our DNA.”
[Image courtesy of Marc Berman. Pictured: Fox Television Stations’ Frank Cicha, Warner Bros.’ Ken Werner, Debmar-Mercury’s Mort Marcus, Sinclair’s Arthur Hasson and Tegna’s Bob Sullivan]