LOS ANGELES -- The changing landscape of television has forced network executives to find innovative ways to reach audiences, something the panelists at Tuesday's Media Leaders Summit at the PromaxBDA Conference regarded as an opportunity rather than an obstacle.
Panelists Kevin Beggs, president of Lionsgate Television Group; Salaam Coleman Smith, president of Style Media; and Michael Wright, president and head of programming at TBS, TNT and Turner Classic Movies, agreed that networks have started to capitalize on the summer months to keep viewers tuning in.
"It's a different world than that 10-month network cycle and that six-week break that it used to be," Beggs said, noting that "networks can no longer rely on reruns to draw eyes."
Wright agreed, adding that the traditional September-to-May premiere period model has been challenged by summertime and limited series.
"I think broadcast is doing something that they've always wanted to do, but the economic model has gotten in the way in the past," he said.
Style Network, along with NBCUniversal sister service Bravo, launches an entire campaign to promote its summer series, with previews starting as soon as April, Smith said.
"That's where we usually premiere our highest-rated shows,” she said. “We attract very young viewers in the summertime, and young people are drawn to a very optimistic, feel-good type of programming."
The panel also discussed how digital advances have increased their networks' reach, with the advent of the digital video recorder as the biggest game-changer. "I don't know how many people in this room actually turn on a channel and watch it, as opposed to turning on the DVR and saying, 'Which of my five or six favorite shows and I going to sit down and watch?' " Wright said.
One of the criticisms of digital platforms — particularly Netflix — is that they encourage binge-watching and impair an individual network's ability to build and sustain a fan base.
But those platforms also offer the networks free marketing, Smith noted, in that viewers can get hooked on a current show by getting unlimited access to the first few seasons and remain hooked by ensuring that they never miss an episode.
"People are self-curating," Wright added, noting that television networks do still serve a function in the revolutionized TV ecosystem.
"I don't think linear TV goes away,” he said. “I think we still need brands and networks to help an audience curate."
Digital content can help networks perform that function, panelist agreed. Smith said that by watching online "Style Pop" tips or immediately purchasing an item seen on a show, Style Network viewers are able to engage immediately with a program.
Both Beggs and Wright championed "mini talk shows" and online extras that allow viewers to extend their excitement.
Smith suggested that digital opportunities merely offer enhanced ways for viewers to do what they've always done — share an experience.
"It doesn't matter how you're consuming it, people don't want to miss out on the conversation,” she said. “People really want to be part of that moment."