5 Things We Learned About Networks’ Battle Plans at TCA Summer Press Tour

Expanding programming slates to finding the next Game of Thrones

Showtime's David Nevins, Amazon's Jennifer Salke, Netflix's Cindy Holland and CBS' Kelly Kahl each made a splash at press tour.
Showtime, Getty Images, CBS

After 15 long days and well over 100 panels, the Television Critics Association’s summer press tour has finally wrapped. During that time, more than 30 broadcast, cable and streaming outlets shared their TV plans for the fall and beyond. (You can find Adweek’s full TCA coverage here.)

Almost all of the networks that had been under the most scrutiny heading into press tour stepped up to the plate, with solid executive sessions from the likes of HBO, Amazon, Fox and—despite sexual harassment allegations against its company’s CEO—CBS, that shed light on at least some of the questions surrounding their respective outlets. (CBS chief Kelly Kahl’s participation made the decisions of fellow broadcasters NBC and ABC to skip their traditional exec sessions during the press tour all the more glaring.)

TCA press tour also offered an illuminating glimpse at the major ways many of these outlets are trying to hold on to their current viewers and attract new ones, as they face more competition than ever for an audiences’ attention. (With the number of scripted programs up 5 percent from this time last year, peak TV is still “a ways” from peaking, FX Networks CEO John Landgraf warned.)

Here were the five biggest takeaways about each network’s battle plans for the coming year:

Programming slates are getting bigger

No other outlet can match the $8 billion Netflix will spend on original content this year, but several competitors discussed plans to expand their current programming budgets, including HBO, FX and Showtime. But each network stressed that it won’t be sacrificing quality for quantity.

“There are a lot of people chasing tonnage,” said Showtime Networks CEO David Nevins, taking a clear swipe at Netflix. “We are chasing distinctiveness. We want each and every one of our launches to make noise and have impact in a broader cultural conversation.”

Everyone needs an OTT strategy

While linear is still king, networks are building up their direct-to-consumer offerings to reach cord-cutters or appeal to audiences that are used to streaming shows on Netflix or HBO Go. FX is now offering an ad-free version of its network called FX+, which previously was only available to Comcast and Cox Contour users, to all subscribers for an additional $6 a month.

With shows like Star Trek: Discovery and The Good Fight, CBS All Access now has 2.5 million subscribers and said it is on track to reach 8 million subscribers by 2022. And Showtime said streaming is becoming a larger part of its audience, representing 30 percent of Shameless’ 8 million viewers each week.

Meanwhile, during ABC’s press tour day, parent company CEO Robert Iger was sharing new information about Disney’s big OTT offering, which will debut late next year. And Discovery is mulling its own OTT offering.

Netflix will keep growing

Almost every exec who spoke at press tour managed to take some kind of swipe at Netflix, usually for its overwhelming volume of content. (“You can’t get infinitely bigger without diffusing the brand,” said FX’s Landgraf.) But Netflix gave as good as it got. Cindy Holland, vp of original series, said “quality and quantity are not mutually exclusive,” and the company is unapologetic about continuing the rapid growth that has the whole industry on edge. “Our job is to provide enough variety that our 130 million members find content they love and come back to us each month,” while also looking to attract “the next 130 million,” Holland said.

Facebook still has an uphill climb

Facebook Watch execs made their press tour debut but had difficulty articulating what differentiates their shows from other outlets, other than their search for “content that brings people together.” And execs were tripped up by reporters’ questions about other content on its platform, like Infowars—Facebook permanently removed that channel two weeks later. The TV press left the Facebook session with more questions than ever, unlike the panel for fellow FANG fledgling streaming service YouTube Premium, which continues to gain recognition and viewers after the success of Cobra Kai in May.

Outlets are making big bets in search of the next Game of Thrones

Several outlets are looking to replicate HBO’s success with Game of Thrones by preparing big, expensive franchises of their own that they hope will appeal to the same mass audience. Amazon is making headway with its Lord of the Rings TV series, closing a deal with writers JD Payne and Patrick McKay—who wrote the next Star Trek film—to develop the TV project.

Showtime has big plans for its series based on blockbuster video game franchise Halo, which Nevins said will be “a brilliant, expansive sci-fi show that has been sorely missing from the television landscape.” And HBO itself may have found its next Game of Thrones in a Thrones prequel it is shooting a pilot for next year after developing five separate stories set in that universe.

However, discovering the next Game of Thrones will be easier said than done. As HBO CEO Richard Plepler said last November, “Anyone who tells you we knew that Thrones was going to be Thrones is completely full of shit.”

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