Consumer’s ferocious viewing appetite and The Netflix Model were some of the prime weighty topics at Produced By‘s “Take It From the Top: 10 Questions for the Cable Bosses” panel Saturday featuring Starz CEO Chris Albrecht, FX Network CEO John Landgraf, president of Showtime networks David Nevins and SundanceTV president and GM Sarah Barnett. Despite the impact that Netflix has had on consumers’ viewing habits, the group concurred that premium cable still has the edge and provides the pivotal role as a curator to viewers. Exclaimed Albrecht, “If you took the premium channels, we have much better product than Netflix and we have more movies and earlier windows.” Albrecht also pointed out how premium “was at the forefront of technological advances” with such view-where-you-go apps as HBO GO. If premium cable is going to outlast Netflix, the trick lies in getting cable and satellite distributors to offer up such services at a suitable price point for the customer. “The consumer is increasingly becoming the buyer of such distribution equipment, and they’re going to feel entitled about what they want, when they want,” said Albrecht.
Landgraf pointed to Comcast’s X1 box, which can deliver an immense amount of immediate programming choices to the consumer. “You look at these mergers in cable, it’s not only motivated to keep programming costs down, but they’re also looking to build technologies at scale. We’re beholden to their technological platforms,” said the FX CEO.
Speaking to Deadline after the panel about whether the Netflix streaming interface/type of technology will overtake what we know as cable channels, Albrecht remarked, “We live in a world of infinite choices. This was (Chairman Interscope Geffen A&M) Jimmy Iovine’s point about Apple and streaming services on the music side: You still need curators, whether you label them as channels, networks or brands. Right now Netflix is curating the content they license. HBO, FX — we’re all doing that. How many curators will there be at the end of the day? I don’t know, but there will be curators whether it’s delivered linearly or through an authenticated app. The curation is the important way in which people will navigate their way through infinite choices.”
Other topics covered among the foursome included how they strive to be more original than ever with their programming as they compete against each other, and avoid being copycats. Albrecht mentioned how he was curious about developing a show about a dictator, but when he learned that Landgraf was launching Tyrant, he sidestepped any thought of a competing project. While the notion that broadcast might be copying premium’s game in terms of premium dramas and comedies, the group largely agreed that broadcast develops material differently, putting creators in touch with department heads. Only at FX, Starz, HBO, Showtime, SundanceTV, AMC, can a show creator get the personal attention of dealing with the head of the network. Underscoring statistically how we’re in the golden age of TV, Landgraf offered up the stat that this year, there are 350 shows combined (cable, broadcast, Hulu, Netflix, Amazon) in the TV market, and that number will move to 400 next year.
Said Landgraf, “There’s a massive overlap between what we’re all doing. The best kind of show (for us) is unbelievably distinctive as it can be. It must be very compelling, it’s going to be based in a very specific world with specific characters and specific levels of truth. I don’t think there’s a genre we wouldn’t do. If you think you can sell it to a broadcaster, don’t bring it to us.”