“We all realize the consumer has taken control and they’re not giving it back,” said Anne Sweeney, co-chairman of Disney Media Networks and president, Disney/ABC Television Group. “Pretty Little Liars on ABC Family never goes off the air because the Twitterverse and our viewers are one and the same.”
Josh Sapan, president and CEO of AMC Networks, agreed that the time between seasons is now more important and interesting than ever for keeping fans of shows like The Walking Dead engaged, and often leads to increased viewership for its next premiere episode.
“That is rich opportunity to expand the fan base, expand the audience,” Sapan said. “The interesting consequence is it creates a particular invitation for stories that go on because people really like their favorites and don’t want to give them up. Technology now influences nature of the content. I think happily it has made it better, richer.”
As a premium network, Showtime is not focused on how many viewers watch a linear premiere, with as much as 60-80% of a series’ audience watching outside of that time. So the addition of its TV Everywhere app Showtime Anytime was just an extension of that philosophy.
“Any way to take that on demand platform and provide different access to it, we think just helps the service,” Showtime Networks chairman and CEO Matt Blank said.
Sweeney said TV Everywhere apps and SVOD services “can peacefully co-exist” with linear TV, because “it’s all about a windowing strategy.” She advocated especially for advertising-supported VOD, where commercial fast-forwarding can be disabled, making it a “very positive thing for economics of cable.”
Of course, VOD adoption has been slow because of issues around awareness and poor user interface, something Sapan believes will get better in the coming years as cable takes a page from the usability books of SVOD services like Netflix and Hulu.
“As cable VOD gets better and better and DVR capability goes the way it goes, some tricks like recommendation algorithms [that SVOD doeswell], cable TV will start to do a lot of that. That’s a happy thing because it keeps it all in the system,” he said. “The [operators] we speak to are very aware of what’s going on, they have aggressive plans.”
Blank agreed that SVOD is a friend to the industry in that it is a revenue source for programmers, and that despite the increased competition, Showtime has never had better performance. And he bristled at the notion that cable TV has ceded its disruptive status to services like Netflix and Aereo.
“We’re still the disruptors,” Blank said. “The thing that drives me crazy right now is the media’s favorite companies are companies with no revenue and no earnings,” he added, to cheers of applause from the audience.
Ultimately, all this technology disruption gets people talking so that during the year the audience for series is getting bigger and the appetite is increasing, Sapan said.
“We’re not just creating a viewing experience, we’re creating an experience for all of this chatter around the shows that in the subscription business is very important,” Blank said. “It brings more people under the tent. Ultimately that’s what we want to do. If that tent has to change going forward, we’re pretty good at doing that.”