3Q: What’s the Future for TV Networks?
Last month’s Emmy awards showcased all the incredible television from the past year. From shows like Barry, Killing Eve, and Pose to cinema-quality limited series like Chernobyl, Fosse/Verdon, and Sharp Objects, the idea of TV programming has radically transformed over the last decade. Jared Sher, Chief Counsel of Program Network Policy here at NCTA, helps explain what this brave new world means for TV networks as they navigate this thriving and changing industry.
How are TV networks working to stay ahead of the curve, amid this “television renaissance”?
The key for programmers (TV networks) has always been to focus on investing in and creating the highest quality, most compelling content. The “television renaissance” that exists today, sometimes called the “platinum age of television,” means that programmers have to work harder than ever to make their content stand out. That means not just the best actors, writers, producers, and directors creating the best content possible, but also savvy marketing and easy-to-use consumer interfaces on cable and online. Programmers once had to compete with all of the other shows airing directly against their content at the same time, but on other channels. That was a challenge in its own right. Today, however, programmers have to compete against literally every piece of content that has ever been created. Thanks to incredible on-demand libraries, a consumer can choose to watch new and original content or to explore vast catalogs of past hits or favorites. The only way to stay ahead of the curve, then, is to continue to invest in high-quality material. That’s why so much of the amazing content on television today looks like what consumers might have seen only in movie theaters a generation ago.
What are the biggest challenges on the horizon for TV networks?
I think the issues of cord cutting and video piracy both present significant challenges for programmers going forward. The good news is, there is an enormous amount of work being devoted to combatting piracy. And while some level of theft will always be present, technological advances have the potential to help dramatically diminish the threat. Programmers will have to work with their distribution partners and law enforcement, and remain vigilant against the threat, however. Cord cutting is undoubtedly a challenge as well. But even there, the reality is that consumers’ appetite for high quality content is not diminishing. So, while programmers have to continue to work hard, innovate, and invest in high quality content – be it entertainment, sports or news – so long as they make it as easy as possible for consumers to discover the content, they will find a way to monetize it. I think the future of the programming business remains very optimistic, despite the challenges.
What are TV networks doing to reach new audiences (or to highlight voices and stories once overlooked by studios)?
Technology has truly enabled the proliferation of content that you describe as the “television renaissance.” Digital cable helped spur the availability of numerous new and interesting channels, some of which are devoted to niche audiences with tastes as varied and diverse as our culture. The internet has only accelerated that trend, enabling new storytellers to reach audiences directly, without necessarily having to go through traditional distribution paths. This has been a tremendous boon to consumers, who today have access to an amazing array of content for every taste and interest. These developments reflect programmers’ unending efforts to try and reach as many people as possible with compelling content – a trend that is not going away any time soon.
BONUS: What was the show that made you see television differently?
For me, it was The Wire. The HBO program remains the gold standard by which all dramas are measured. Its combination of amazing storytelling, compelling acting, and gritty realism is hard to match.