Next TV: Networks Find Friends on Digital Playground

Panelists: Online Video, Traditional Television Can Coexist Nicely
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New York -- Far from cutting out the legs from under TV, Internet-video platforms are providing new avenues for networks and producers to expand their brands -- and can act as a low-cost way to incubate original content.

That was the upbeat sentiment of a panel of industry executives here at Multichannel News/B&C’s Next TV Summit.

“Digital, the Web -- it’s another playground to get your content in,” said John P. Roberts, senior vice president of digital media and commercial affairs for production company Endemol USA.

Roberts (pictured, above) said Endemol is increasingly looking at “micro-budget programming” to develop shows for Internet distribution that could land on traditional TV. The company can produce an entire 13-epsiode series for less than $100,000, he said.

As examples, he cited the XARM Extreme Arm Wrestling series Endemol created for Machinima, which distributes its content on YouTube and other platforms, and a forthcoming comedy series from SNL alumna Cheri Oteri (with segments that include “The Amazing Racist”).

“At the end of the day, it’s compelling storytelling that will engage viewers,” Roberts said.

Discovery Communications is using supplemental show-related video content online and on mobile to keep fans engaged, said Rebecca Glashow, senior vice president of digital distribution and partnerships. In addition to that, the nonfiction programmer’s acquisition last year of online-video site Revision3 helps Discovery “fill in the gaps for us” to cater to a whole new audience, she said.

“There’s a massive audience on TV, and it’s not disappearing anytime soon. This is where we are telling large stories,” Glashow said. “But people are also noticing that there is a massive audience on this other platform.”

Disney Junior uses digital outlets to “enhance the brand and keep the brand relevant,” said Nancy Kanter, senior vice president of original programming and general manager at Disney Junior Worldwide.  Most online content consumption for younger children is through games, so the network created what it calls “appisodes” for Mickey Mouse and other characters with interactive content aimed at reinforcing the kids’ affinity with the programming.

“The new platforms don’t take away [from TV], they work together,” she said.

When A+E Networks considers Internet distribution deals, it's careful to not disrupt its existing distribution arrangements with cable, satellite and telco partners, said Dan Suratt executive vice president of digital media and business development.

“The only business we are worried about cannibalizing is our linear service,” he said.

On the TV Everywhere front, A+E has pushed forward with video apps for A&E, History and Lifetime -- and the usage has far exceeded Suratt’s expectations.

Pre-launch, he said, he expected the apps to generate somewhere around 10% of A+E’s total video traffic and that traditional TV viewing might decline because of TVE. Instead, the video consumption in the apps has been 95% additive (with only 5% choosing to watch on an iPad or iPhone instead of TV) and the apps generated about one-third of A+E’s overall video traffic online.

But Discovery has been “hesitant” to embrace TV Everywhere because the ability to measure advertising on mobile platforms isn’t there, Glashow said.

“There is a very high bar for measurement across platforms,” she said.

Suratt, responding to a question about Intel’s over-the-top TV project, said that if it can deliver an audience that’s clearly interesting to content providers. “We think anything that brings in more customers is a good thing,” he said.

Meanwhile, A+E recently struck a licensing deal with for past-season content, after ending its relationship with Netflix. That type of catch-up viewing content is “additive,” he said. “We have always thought about these platforms… as promotional, although yes, there’s a revenue component.”

The panel, “Engaging Broader Audiences on New Platforms and Technology Solutions,” was moderated by Roger Keating, senior vice president of digital media at Hearst Television.