NAB2006: TV Masters Illuminate Content Distribution

IMAS Publishing’s NAB Daily has a great set of stories covering events and presentations at the conference.

Though a good deal of the conference focuses on tech, in the end content remains king, and a new media platform will only succeed if there’s something interesting to watch on it. Distributing that content is opening up new revenue streams for companies both young and old, as conference attendees learned at yesterday’s Television Masters Luncheon:

The event was entitled, "New Distribution Pipelines: Turning TV Content Into Revenue."

The keynote address, delivered by Anne Sweeney, co-chair of Disney Media Networks and president of Disney-ABC Television Group, focused the necessity of change to maximize opportunity.

"Our industry is in the midst of a seismic shift," Sweeney said.

Citing an earlier era when cable and home video first threatened broadcasters, Sweeney cautioned the audience against "old thinking."

"Take heart, we have successfully overcome it in the past. We adjusted to the changing reality to reclaim our viewers," she said.

Sweeney said ABC made history when it agreed to make its content available on Apple’s iTunes service. Learning from the mistakes of the music industry, the network understood that this distribution route would not cannibalize its content’s value, but rather enhance it.

"iTunes created a new revenue stream for our content," Sweeney said.

Disney will continue to test and experiment in an effort to discern viewers’ preferences, Sweeney said. She described a planned project during May and June in which episodes of popular ABC programs will be offered as free streams – including three required-viewing ad breaks.

"These emerging platforms aren’t ‘alternate,’ they’re additive," she said.

Sweeney acknowledged that the path from traditional broadcasting to today’s divergent distribution was a challenging one.

"We don’t have all of the answers, but we’re committed to working with our affiliates for the answers," she said. "I like the fact that old media is leading the way into the future."

In the lively panel discussion that followed Sweeney’s address, moderator Tony Kern of Deloitte & Touche led industry luminaries through the maze of issues facing both networks and affiliates.

Larry Kramer, president of CBS Digital Media, advocated experimenting with different ingredients, methods and technologies. "We’re basically trying everything," he said.

Kramer described CBS’ experiment with free streams of its 2006 March Madness broadcast. While the 2005 event, which required viewers to pay, drew an audience of 25,000, this year’s Webcast was served to five million viewers, 300,000 of whom signed on the first 15 minutes of the telecast.

Kramer felt the CBS broadcast audience hadn’t been compromised by the move. "Who wouldn’t rather be watching at home on a 50-inch plasma?" he asked. Instead, the Web feeds reached viewers who would otherwise have missed out on the network telecast, and the numbers bore out that hypothesis, revealing the highest ratings for that event in eight years.