What Are the TV Industry’s Biggest Challenges in 2020? 18 Top Executives Tell Us

Measurement, content and getting direct-to-consumer right are top of mind

Illustration of shadow figures climbing ladders to a movie countdown screen showing the number 3
It was a year of major shake-ups for TV, and the new year is likely to be even more volatile. Illustration: Trent Joaquin; Source: Getty Images

With the arrival of new streaming services, new ad formats and a wealth of boundary-pushing programming, 2019 was a monumental year for the television industry. The new year is likely to be even more significant, as two additional television titans break into the streaming space, the shakeout from consolidation continues, and the TV world aims to adapt to an ever-changing business climate.

As part of Adweek’s annual Year in Review coverage, we asked 18 of the industry’s top programming and business execs: What is the industry’s biggest challenge to tackle in 2020? (Earlier in the month, they shared their No. 1 priorities for the new year.) Here’s what they told us.

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

Even though all involved acknowledge the unparalleled power of TV to build businesses, there are considerable institutional challenges within the legacy TV advertiser ecosystem to move away from traditional demo guarantees. What will create this change is the continued growth of the DTC category and their willingness to value the power of TV differently.

Rob Sharenow, president of programming, A+E Networks

Despite all the noise about new platforms and modes of consumption, the biggest challenge remains as it always was: to make compelling content that is exciting to viewers. Successful new, original content is the lifeblood of the business.

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

You’re seeing and are going to see a lot of experimentation, a lot of new things being tried and new combinations of old things. Success will come from not ceding to conventional wisdom that says there is only one way.

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

Regardless of the platform, and the platforms are ever-expanding right now, the audience’s appetite for great content (emphasis on great) is unending, and I am proud to have joined a company like AMC Networks, which continues to punch above its weight, having an outsized impact on popular culture. AMCN makes shows that matter to viewers, and we are working towards making those highly engaged and coveted viewer interactions available to brands wherever they occur. Together, we as an industry, we must shift from an impressions-based mindset to a more holistic commercial revenue approach, so we can continue to serve clients and audiences with the content that they need and want.

Marc DeBevoise, CEO, CBS Interactive

With a growing number of options available to consumers, the question for the industry is: Which services will consumers decide are worth the cost and their time? With that said, it’s not a zero-sum game. Consumers have already proven that they want to and will subscribe to multiple services, however that number isn’t infinite. I believe there will be a number of services that will be on the rocket ship, and feel strongly that we’re already one of them with even more potential to grow.

Rob Tuck, evp of national sales, The CW

No question, the biggest challenge facing the industry is the rapid growth in both AVOD and SVOD competition. At this rate, we foresee a surplus of inventory in the marketplace across multiple premium AVOD services. Plus, viewers will continue to sample the new SVOD platforms, further impacting and fracturing the available audience.

The advantage we have, especially for advertisers, is that for more than a decade we have created this unique, vibrant ecosystem—combining linear TV, our best in class AVOD service and our unparalleled reach on social media—all working together to connect with viewers. We first developed and introduced our convergence strategy for advertisers over 10 years ago, so we are making it our priority to continue to innovate… to ensure The CW’s digital platforms maintain their competitive edge.

Kathleen Finch, chief lifestyle brands officer, Discovery

It’s all about the consumer. Listening to what she wants—and as importantly, what she doesn’t want. It’s harder than ever for viewers to wade through the myriad choices, and for us as programmers, to navigate shifting viewer behavior, so we have to stay laser focused on bringing great story, great stars and great emotion through our shows to earn consumers’ share of mind and time.

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

Increased competition for viewers amid a cacophony of noise. Not only is it an Olympic and election year, but viewers and advertisers are adjusting to the new world order brought on by the influx of streamers. It’s created incredible new choice for viewers but also increased confusion. As a market leader in female viewing, with five of the top networks (TLC, HGTV, Food Network, ID and OWN), we’re tackling the challenge head-on … super-serving upscale audiences who are devoted to our stars, programs and trusted brands.

Rita Ferro, president of advertising sales, Disney

Measurement and attribution as new currencies. Currently, there is not one scalable solution. We’re tackling the challenge by developing our own models and currencies. There won’t be one absolute solution, but we’re hopeful and looking forward to the development of solutions that the industry can transact upon.

Marianne Gambelli, president of advertising sales, Fox Corp

Advertisers are increasingly being challenged with reaching audiences at scale, due in part to the proliferation of ad-free streaming services. In this rapidly evolving ecosystem, it will be essential for brands to find high-quality advertising platforms and content with proven effectiveness at scale that deliver value and focus on effectiveness not just efficiency. Fortunately, in this complex environment, Fox’s brands, networks and advertiser-friendly mentality make us more relevant than ever to marketers.

Craig Erwich, svp and head of originals, Hulu

There are many entrants into the on-demand world, who may not recognize the scale and complexity of running these businesses. Ultimately, it’s about giving consumers choice and control. That will be what wins consumer decisions.

Peter Naylor, svp and head of advertising sales, Hulu

One of the biggest challenges for industry is what I call “short-termism.” Businesses are living quarter to quarter while consumers are racing ahead. Marketers and platforms alike must have the courage to disrupt our quarter-to-quarter existence. Otherwise, marketers will be stuck planning for the next quarter while the consumer leaves them in the dust. A quarter-to-quarter pace is no longer fast enough.

Courteney Monroe, president, National Geographic Global Television Networks

The era of direct-to-consumer streaming is now fully upon us. In an increasingly fragmented and saturated marketplace, it’s more essential than ever for us to differentiate ourselves with high quality, culturally impactful programming that will break through and be perceived as worth paying for. Additionally, finding new and innovative ways of partnering with marketers to deepen consumer engagement across all platforms.

Paul Telegdy, chairman, NBC Entertainment

An agreed measurement for success.

Linda Yaccarino, chairman, advertising and partnerships, NBCUniversal

This industry no longer goes through waves of disruption. Instead, disruption is a constant state of being, and depending on who you are, that’s either exhausting or invigorating. Now companies are constantly asking: How do you reach audiences at scale, invest in the highest-quality content and experiences, and maintain the highest standards, all while being flexible and adaptable? And the answer is not legacy thinking, or operating the way we’re used to.

If change is constant, we have to be constantly changing and innovating and transforming ourselves. But we can only do that if we agree on the values—and the vision—that define our industry’s future, and set ourselves and our partners on a path to success.

Jana Winograde, president of entertainment, Showtime Networks

On a macro level, the biggest challenge will be to navigate the balance between the new entrants in the entertainment/streaming space with the relatively unchanging amount that the average consumer is willing to pay for that entertainment.

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

The industry still needs to address the lack of consistent cross-platform measurement and achieve that universal goal of counting every eyeball. We also need to remain focused on how we mine and use data within new privacy guidelines to deliver linear addressability at scale. That will have the potential to revolutionize advertising.

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

Our challenge is the same one the entire industry is facing: Our pay TV universe is shrinking while audience segmentation is increasing. We feel confident in our company’s position—investing in data-informed, ad-supported experiences that span high-profile live TV like NCAA March Madness and CNN’s anticipated Presidential Election coverage, and premium on-demand content, including the HBO Max bundle.

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