Binge Viewing, Cord Cutting and Streaming Platforms Are All the Rage at NATPE

‘The syndicated model is broken’

Some hot issues are sure to be addressed at the annual National Association of Television Program Executives gathering this week in Miami—among them, cord cutting, binge viewing, social media and the relentless rise of over-the-top (OTT) platforms like Hulu and Netflix.

Producers and distributors of syndicated content are understandably nervous about the trend whereby TV channels want the right to launch an entire season of new episodes at one time on demand, à la Netflix’s House of Cards.

At the same time, a growing number of station groups are spurning the idea of long-term commitments to syndicated shows in favor of shorter test runs.

It’s all about protecting revenue streams and competing much more carefully and fiercely against online platforms, which have grown in clout as more consumers threaten to cut the tether to cable and satellite providers. “You have all these digital players embracing original content, so you’re going to have people asking, ‘What does a made-for-Hulu mean [for all parts of the industry]?’” said Peter Iacono, managing director, international, at Lionsgate.

This much is certain, Iacono added: “They’ll open the door for a lot more production and creativity.”

“Having new players in the business, especially those involved with digital media distribution, is really important for potential partnerships,” said Peter Tortorici, CEO of GroupM Entertainment. Tortorici said he would go to Miami with an eye out for opportunities in branded entertainment and properties with global reach.

A large representation of digital companies is one reason NATPE’s attendance is “significantly” above last year’s 5,000 mark, per NATPE president, CEO Rod Perth. The gathering will also get a healthy boost from international attendance, particularly from Latin America.

As for broadcasters, Valari Dobson Staab, president of NBC’s owned-and-operated stations, said station groups want to retain their position as the dominant player in daytime. “Stations still have an edge in daytime programming over competitors, and we all want to keep that,” she said.

To that end, station groups are placing fewer long-term bets on syndicated programming. Trial runs were key, in fact, to the launch of The Wendy Williams Show and Bethenny on Fox stations. Other station groups, including Meredith, Raycom Media and E.W. Scripps Co., have also jumped on the testing bandwagon.

Not every station group ascribes to the strategy, however, noted Staab, explaining that it can take much longer than a few weeks for a show to gel with viewers. One of Staab’s objectives at NATPE is to support NBCUniversal Domestic Television Distribution newcomer The Meredith Vieira Show, which debuts this fall.

Frank Cicha, svp of programming at Fox Television Stations, explained the testing attraction: “There used to be between five and 10 new syndicated shows every year, debuting in September, and now there’s two or maybe one. The syndicated model is broken. The producers and distributors of these shows have lost millions upon millions of dollars, and part of NATPE’s function is for all of us to get together and figure out how it can be done differently.”

Sean Atkins, svp, gm of Discovery Communications’ digital networks and commerce, pointed out that other concerns will be top of mind at NATPE. “A lot of people will be talking about how big data can impact programming development, and social TV will be another area that we’ll have conversations about,” he said.

Some executives are wrestling with in-season stacking rights, which allow networks to offer an entire season of episodes via on-demand platforms. Traditionally, networks are limited to a “rolling five,” which limits on-demand viewing to only a handful of recent episodes.

Several networks, including FX, have argued that by making an entire current season of a given show available via an on-demand platform, viewers who want to try out a show halfway through the season have a chance to view early episodes that may be crucial to understanding a particular storyline. And that, in turn, may grow the overall audience.

But distributors and producers are concerned that stacking might cut into revenue they could earn from later distribution windows, including off-network syndication and OTT platforms.

It may take another year—and another NATPE—before enough information is unearthed to end that particular debate.

Janet Stilson is a freelance writer for Adweek.