Summit ’18: Navigating an industry under pressure

Consolidation and OTT services were top of mind for executives during a high-level panel discussion at the 2018 Realscreen Summit in Washington, DC on Monday afternoon (Jan. 29). Moderated by Hollywood ...
January 30, 2018

Consolidation and OTT services were top of mind for executives during a high-level panel discussion at the 2018 Realscreen Summit in Washington, DC on Monday afternoon (Jan. 29).

Moderated by Hollywood Reporter East Coast TV Editor Marisa Gurthrie, the panel discussed what progress the industry has made in improving its current business model.

Featured on the session: Kathleen Finch, chief programming, content and brand officer, Scripps Networks Interactive; John Ford, general manager, NPACT; Tom Forman, CEO, Critical Content; Liz Gateley, EVP, head of programming, Lifetime; Russ McCarroll, SVD, development and production, Discovery Channel; and Brent Montgomery, former CEO of ITV America and head of the newly launched Wheelhouse Entertainment.

Speed of development

One of the appeals for networks to work with unscripted prodcos is the ability for quick turnaround, but the panel agreed that they’re slowly losing that competitive advantage as scripted begins moving faster.

A few of the participants credited this to a change in times — networks can no longer greenlight series based on content alone. Other factors have to be considered, such as support from ad sales and upfront timing. “So much more goes into the decision-making process aside from [asking] ‘is it a good show?’” said Gateley.

She noted that the crux of her job is to make money for the network, which means knowing how the advertising community will respond to a series, or how it will fit into a Tuesday night schedule.

“I’m jealous of our OTT streaming partners because they can make a decision if something is just fabulous,” said Finch.

NPACT’s Ford acknowledged the protracted development process, but wondered if having more people involved in a project results in a better series.

Comfort food

The panel enthusiastically chatted about project development in the wake of the success of A&E’s successful Live PD franchise.

Critical Content’s Forman said his team found Live PD to be successful because it is “familiar enough with an extraordinary twist”, adding that viewers are compelled by a format that they feel they know.

“It sold because the network could wrap their brains around it, and viewers could understand the value [proposition],” he said. “We’re just tearing into things we already do and are asking what do we do well.” This doesn’t mean everything needs to be live, Forman said, but it helps to start from a comfortable place that works.

Relying on what works will also help compete against OTTs.

“What some of the OTTs don’t have yet is brand,” said Gateley. “If it goes on Lifetime or A&E, you know viewers are going for a specific experience and it has a better chance of being successful. We have a very particular Lifetime viewer that comes for a particular program, so we have that over Netflix and Apple right now.”


While there is sometimes fear around consolidation, Montgomery noted that if it means that the companies coming together are financially stronger as a result, it can be a good thing.

“With a bit of bureaucracy, it can be hard to navigate,” he said. “It all depends on the companies.”

Finch and McCarroll offered a bit of insight, as the pair are currently prepping for Discovery’s acquisition of Scripps.

“We haven’t started working together yet, but both sides are looking forward to it,” said Finch. “I’m optimistic. I think together our companies will be terrific.”

Montgomery added that, having worked with Finch in the past, it’s great for producers to know that they can pitch projects that could perhaps fit even more brands than in the past.

About The Author
Barry Walsh is editor and content director for realscreen, and has served as editor of the publication since 2009. With a career in entertainment media that spans two decades, prior to realscreen, he held the associate editor post for now defunct sister publication Boards, which focused on the advertising and commercial production industries. Before Boards, he served as editor of Canadian Music Network, a weekly music industry trade, and as music editor for HMV.com. As content director, he also oversees the development of content for the brand's market-leading events, the Realscreen Summit and Realscreen West, as well as new content initiatives.