Programming and platforms

The changing television environment was addressed yesterday in a first-ever gathering of industry Chief Digital Officers.  “A Wider Canvas: TV Creators on the Potential (and Peril) of New Platforms” was moderated by the L.A. Times‘ Dawn Chmielewski as she led a discussion of the creation and delivery of content in the new digital media era.

As the availability of programming online, whether streaming or as downloads, continues to grow, there is considerable anxiety about the impact of such trends.  George Kliavkoff (NBC Universal) stated that online viewing of programming seemed to drive ratings, not cannibalize TV viewership.  The online availability of shows was used as a substitute for a DVR, allowing people to catch up on older episodes or timeshift their viewing.

Albert Cheng (Disney ABC Television Group) described how ABC has seen its popular programming illegally traded on peer-to-peer networks, which led to the deal that made their shows available on iTunes and ABC.com. However, since those platforms are only available for domestic audiences, and there are different release patterns globally, overseas viewers are still prone to pirate content.

There was also discussion of services such as Joost, the P2P platform for distributing TV shows and other forms of video digitally which has been mentioned on a number of panels at The Cable Show this year.  However, Cheng would like online distribution partners to spend money to drive awareness and not just rely on viral marketing for promotion. There are also key questions to ask.  What can the partner do that the programmer itself cannot?  Will the partner be a threat to the existing cable model?

The panel looked at the huge potential in the mobile market. James McCaffrey (Turner Broadcasting System, Inc.) suggested that the cable industry should take a look at the more advance mobile applications in other markets, particular Europe and Asia. Kliavkoff pointed out that there are standards in place in those markets for mobile content, as well as revenue opportunities for programmers.  He also noted how the very personal nature of a mobile device means that consumers will accept different pricing structure: a complete song can be bought for about one dollar, while a fragment of that song — in the form of a ringtone — is cheerfully purchased for three times that amount.

Diane Robina (Comcast Corporation) acknowledged that digital rights management issues must be addressed, but said, “Your users will always want to play with your product because they like it. You have to let the user do what they want but in a safe way.”

One amusing note: Chmielewski’s description of Google as “frenemy” of cable.

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