TV Executives Share Their No. 1 Priorities for 2020

Plus what their biggest obstacles will be

Illustration of people walking on a piece of notebook paper, on top of a TV screen
We asked 18 TV executives about their biggest 2020 priority and what might prevent them from achieving it. Illustration: Trent Joaquin; Source: Getty Images

Enjoy the holiday season while you can, TV executives, because it’ll be a busy 2020 ahead.

says adweek 2019 in review in a blue sparkly diamond
Click to read more.

As the streaming wars keep heating up, executives from the network, cable and streaming sides are planning out their road maps for 2020, figuring out what to prioritize and strategizing around the challenges that come with an increasingly competitive streaming space.

For part of Adweek’s annual year-in-review coverage, we asked 18 of the industry’s top programming and business execs: what’s your biggest priority next year? And what is the biggest obstacle that could prevent you from achieving that goal?

Here’s what they told us:

Sarah Barnett

Sarah Barnett, president, AMC Networks Entertainment Group and AMC Studios

As a content company it will always be our No. 1 priority to develop and produce incredible creator-driven, talked-about television for our audiences. Our known IP and incredibly passionate audiences have always provided rich opportunity to create a variety of distribution and other businesses alongside our cable ones—content licensing businesses, premium services like AMC Premiere, branded entertainment and more. As industry change accelerates, you will see increasingly innovative responses to audience and landscape changes from AMC Networks in 2020.

[The biggest obstacle is] knowing who we want to be and how, and having the confidence to stick to that vision and execute is key, and it becomes an obstacle only to the degree we lose sight of that.

Marc DeBevoise, CEO, CBS Interactive

For the upcoming year, CBS All Access continues to be focused on our growing slate of original programming and also our expansion further into new areas like children’s programming and live sports. With several highly anticipated new series on the horizon, including Star Trek: Picard and The Stand, as well as fan favorites Star Trek: Discovery, The Good Fight, Why Women Kill and The Twilight Zone returning, CBS All Access will have more than a dozen original series in the 2020 season, marking our first year of “always on” original programming. Our original series are one of the service’s biggest drivers; as we continue to grow, creating content that not only speaks to our existing audience but attracts new audiences to the service is an opportunity we look forward to tackling through smart, creative programming.

One of the challenges we face is continuing to scale to meet the needs of the service’s rapid growth. Five years in, we’ve successfully exceeded our subscriber goals, doubled the service’s overall content offering and launched a growing slate of original series. So, I feel I can safely say we’re well positioned to do so.

Craig Erwich, svp and head of originals, Hulu

My priority is, and always will be, managing a culture that achieves creative excellence for each of our shows and creators. The biggest obstacle is a frenzied marketplace.

Rita Ferro

Rita Ferro, president, advertising sales, Disney

Continuing to position and differentiate Disney in the market. We’ve done an incredible job at establishing the team as a reach machine, with category specialists, having premium audiences at scale, with strong attribution and targeting capabilities that drive volume, share and new revenue streams. All while continuing to evolve our Disney Advertising Sales organization to be customer-centric, performance driven and addressable first.

[The biggest obstacle is] time.

Kathleen Finch, chief lifestyle brands officer, Discovery

Continuing to superserve our female viewers and never letting go of them! From HGTV and Food Network to ID and TLC and more, we have a leading portfolio in the U.S. for women, and we don’t take that for granted. In 2020, the team and I are especially excited about the return of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition on HGTV in February, among other premieres, and supporting the continued growth of our new direct-to-consumer product, Food Network Kitchen.

Marianne Gambelli, president, advertising sales, Fox Corp

2020 will be the first full calendar year of Fox Corporation, and we will be kicking it off from a position of strength.  We are well placed to be the most reliable destination for marketers, reaching viewers at scale with immediacy from live sports and news to the best in broadcast entertainment. One of my focuses in 2020 is continuing to work with our partners to develop unique solutions that allow them to forge an even deeper relationship with our most passionate fans.

While our leadership role in the market is unique, the obstacles we face are not: namely, the continued audience fragmentation that makes it so difficult for marketers to ensure their message breaks through and resonates with the audiences most important to them.

Kim Kelleher, president of advertising sales and partnerships, AMC Networks

We have both a challenge and an opportunity ahead of us for 2020—and that is how to best serve and monetize the millions of fans of AMC Networks programming who are engaging with our content and IP in myriad ways that are not on TV. We are already deep into our redoubled focus on engaging our fans on digital and social media platforms and monetizing the non-TV fan impressions and interactions that we have earned.

Courteney Monroe, president, National Geographic Global Television Networks

Our priority in fiscal year 2020 is to launch and nurture premium series—starting with the return of the reimagined hit series Brain Games in January, then Cosmos: Possible Worlds, Uncharted: Gordon Ramsay, Genius: Aretha and our new series from the creators of The Amazing Race, Race to the Center of the Earth, for which we have particularly high hopes. Our biggest obstacle is the ongoing battle for share of voice which is why big, bold series with recognizable talent in front of and behind the camera is essential and an important part of our premium programming strategy.

Peter Naylor, svp and head of advertising sales, Hulu

Audiences have migrated to new platforms, and streaming TV is a top destination. In 2020, we’re focused on helping buyers shape their streaming TV strategies and realize the full potential of the creative opportunity in streaming. The brands who go beyond the traditional 30-second spot will see outsized results, but it requires the willingness to experiment and the commitment to see it through.

Peter Olsen, evp, ad sales, A+E Networks

The current supply-demand dynamic in the ad-supported TV landscape really points to a market reality that traditional demo guarantees must fade away. The total audience needs to be counted with a shift toward business outcomes instead of GRPs.

Mark Pedowitz

Mark Pedowitz, president, The CW

Our biggest priority in 2020 will be communicating to fans, advertisers and the industry about our full-stack streaming strategy, where The CW will now have the entire in-season digital rights to all of our new shows going forward—for free, no authentication required and fully ad-supported. This is easily one of most the pivotal shifts in The CW’s history.

Patience will be our biggest obstacle, because we are at the very, very early stages of this strategy, and these things take time to resonate. This being the first year, we won’t have a real sense of how each of our new series are doing digitally until the summer—when the entire first seasons of Batwoman, Nancy Drew and Katy Keene are available on our digital platforms. In fact, we believe we will see the true potential of our new digital strategy in a few years when over half our schedule will be available on streaming as a full stack.

Jo Ann Ross, president, chief advertising revenue officer, ViacomCBS domestic ad sales

It will be very exciting to go to market as one ViacomCBS team with a unified voice to present clients and agencies our unparalleled portfolio of premium content. We are laser-focused on building an integrated team that will continue to serve our clients in the way they’ve come to expect while providing seamless access to our industry-leading reach and innovative solutions. ViacomCBS will be delivering a full suite of media offerings, and we are particularly bullish on our combined digital video inventory and the enormous opportunity it will bring our partners.

We will set up this team for success and believe there aren’t many obstacles that will be able to stop us in 2020. The only thing that could possibly slow us down is the industry’s dependence on legacy systems and process. We plan to push the envelope on all fronts and look forward to evolving the industry.

Rob Sharenow, president, programming, A+E Networks

To further evolve and focus our core brands, History, A&E and Lifetime, to grow our share of audience. The biggest obstacle is the ever-increasing competition for consumer’s time in all spheres of entertainment. I’m playing Scrabble six hours a week on my phone.

Jon Steinlauf, chief U.S. advertising sales officer, Discovery

Discovery has a lot to look forward to in 2020, including our move to the broadcast upfront week for our New York advertiser presentation; the highly anticipated launch of Magnolia with Chip and Joanna Gaines; and the continued momentum of our portfolio, through which we reach 20% of women in America on any given night. Our move to upfront week reflects the scale, reach and relevance of our iconic brands. In 2020, we also are laser-focused on continuing to drive our Engage product and all of our data-driven solutions; on driving our Premiere sales packages (a curated package of the biggest hits on our top networks), which have become a huge success for us; and our GO TVE streaming apps, which are growing rapidly, continue to attract a younger audience and is our fastest-growing ad sales platform.

Paul Telegdy, chairman, NBC Entertainment

It was to use the Olympics to maximum benefit.

Linda Yaccarino

Linda Yaccarino, chairman, advertising and partnerships, NBCUniversal

2020 will be a watershed year for NBCUniversal. As the largest media company in the world, we will have the biggest, most game-changing events, from the Olympics to the election to the launch of Peacock. These global events will unite audiences and transform the face of our company—and the entire industry.

As we activate on each of these moments, we’ll also be making strategic changes that will cement and redefine our leadership in the media industry. We’ll unveil a new global premium advertising marketplace with Sky and unlock massive audiences—providing safe, scaled opportunities to brands around the world. To support that marketplace, we’re building a new platform infrastructure that will change every aspect of how we operate our business, making it even easier for clients to partner with us. And finally, we’ll measure the success of our clients’ investments exclusively with metrics and currencies that matter, ones that put their needs first and demonstrate the value we’ve always provided.

This is just a glimpse of the future we will create across Comcast, NBCUniversal and Sky. The only challenge is this is all uncharted territory. We are going charge against the legacy hurdles that continue to impede progress in our industry. Because no other company has challenged legacy the way we do.

Jana Winograde, president, entertainment, Showtime Networks

At Showtime, our biggest priority is growth—growth of our subscriber base and audience, growth in the diversity of voices and perspectives we bring to our platform, further growth in our relationships with the best talent in the business, growth in our culture of creativity and respect and continued growth in the incredible quality of our programming.

The biggest obstacle to achieving this goal is defeatism; there is so much pessimism in the industry around the ability to compete in today’s crowded media landscape. At Showtime we know that we can compete and that we will continue to drive our business toward that to which we aspire.

Gerhard Zeiler, chief revenue officer, WarnerMedia, and president, WarnerMedia International Networks

The biggest priority for WarnerMedia in 2020 is the HBO Max launch in May. At launch, it will be subscriber-based, and we believe the HBO Max bundle will be very compelling to our affiliates. At the same time, we are already preparing for the AVOD version, expected in 2021.

The biggest obstacle is not getting distracted and staying focused on developing a supreme content experience, appealing to the entire family and unlike anything available.

@jasonlynch Jason Lynch is TV Editor at Adweek, overseeing trends, technology, personalities and programming across broadcast, cable and streaming video.
@kelseymsutton Kelsey Sutton is the streaming editor at Adweek, where she covers the business of streaming television.