5 Ways the Networks Want to Change How You Watch TV

How television executives are adjusting to the post-Netflix world


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The Television Critics Association press tour is a chance for the networks to show off their new shows and returning hits to television critics. But as viewers increasingly use technology ranging from DVRs to streaming services like Hulu and Netflix to watch television, and as artists increasingly tell and sell stories outside the conventional network structure, how network executives approach technology is as important as how they think about storytelling and marketing. These are the five smartest ideas we heard at the press tour in Pasadena over the last two weeks.

1. Use web content as a development pool for the airwaves.
Executive: Kevin Reilly, Entertainment President, Fox Broadcasting Company
While some of the people who make Internet television series are happy to stay online, there are plenty who would love the support of networks, and to make the jump from the Internet to the airwaves. Friends alum Lisa Kudrow's Web Therapy, for example, started as a web-only series and is now aired on Showtime. Reilly's bright idea is to jumpstart that process and to bring it internal. Fox has a strong foothold in animation in prime time with shows like The Simpsons and Family Guy. So Reilly announced that Fox is going to start an aggressive program to develop animated series online to compete with YouTube, which is building out a series of web TV channels anchored by celebrities. And he says that "something that starts in digital could be the next big prime-time hit...You're seeing those entities [like YouTube] beginning to see the value of content. We have an expertise, and a history, and a proficiency, and a prime-time audience base." Tech companies from Netflix and Hulu to Yahoo are behaving more like content providers. It's smart of Fox to start acting like a tech company.

2. If you want critics to assess your ratings more creatively, give them more data.
Executive: John Landgraf, President and General Manager, FX Networks
Landgraf started his session at TCA with a plea to critics to look beyond the ratings of shows when they air in their initial time slot, and to include viewing of repeats of episodes in the same day that they air, and DVR viewings of shows both in the three and seven days after episodes air. Only reporting the first dramatically underestimates the true audience for his shows, Landgraf argued, saying "We're getting paid, from an ad sales standpoint, for about a third of the audience of our show...if we hadn't gotten into the ownership [of shows that air on other networks] business, we'd be struggling to maintain this level of business."

But ratings come out in piecemeal ways, and it can be hard to aggregate numbers and draw trends. So I asked Landgraf if he'd build a portal or tool for journalists to help us get the data we need to do what he's asking. He said he would. If he lives up to that promise, it would help journalists quantify the time-shifting revolution—especially if other networks follow.

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Alyssa Rosenberg is a culture writer with The Washington Post.

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