CES: How Tech Changed TV, And What’s Still the Same

NBCU's Natalie Morales and Linda Yaccarino (Image credit: Jon Lafayette)

NBCUniversal came to CES to talk about how technology is shaping the future of entertainment, but concluded that artificial intelligence won’t be able to replace talent, creativity and storytelling.

In a keynote address Wednesday afternoon, Linda Yaccarino, chairman of advertising and partnerships was joined by several stars of NBCU shows: Natalie Morales, West Coast anchor of Today, Mandy Moore, star of This Is Us; Ester Dean, producer and judge of Songland; Kate del Castillo, star of Telmundo’s La Reina del Sur and Terry Crews, host of America’s Got Talent and a star of Brooklyn 99.

Yaccarino noted NBC’s humble beginnings as a radio company. This year, it will create hundreds of thousands of hours of content. Technology has created numerous ways to distribute and monetize that content.

“I think it actually paints a very exciting picture of the future of entertainment,” Yaccarino said. “We connect with our audiences in such a deep, personal way. If you’re like myself, you really look forward to your weekly date with your best friends, the Pearsons.”

But something won’t change. Storytelling and that creativity cannot be replaced by AI or technology,” Yaccarino said.

Saturday Night Live provides an example of a 45-year-old show that’s benefited from viewers being able to watch it in new ways..

“Technology has helped that 45-year-old show maintain its chokehold on the cultural zeitgeist of this country,” Yaccarino said. Sometimes you catch it live, others time you watch Sunday in the DVR. Or you catch bits and pieces on YouTube or on your phone.

“So what it really means about the future of entertainment is that it comes to you in many forms, many different length of time, because it comes to you the way you want it. So the choice is unlimited and we know we need to make that content available to you in every way that you want to interact with our content.”

Advertisers also still want to interact with premium content.

“What we’re here all week long at CES talking about is because we’re able to aggregate all those audiences on any screen, short form, long form, any time of day, we’re able to mobilize advertising opportunities for our partners,” Yaccarino said. “That’s a big deal because if they put their messages with our content it inspires emotions. And many of you will remember that and go out and buy stuff.”

2020 will also be a big year for NBC with the Olympics, the Presidential election and the launch of the new Peacock streaming service.

Moore, star of This is Us, said technology has changed the business a lot since she got her first record deal when she was 15. The popularity of This is Us is helping her relaunch her music career.

“It’s pretty incredible to have such a huge platform in this television show,” Moore said. “I’ve met plenty of people who had no idea I did music [before becoming an actress.”

She said social media also gives her a connection to the audience and feedback that just didn’t happen only a few years ago.

Dean, of NBC’s Songland said she’s using technology to producer her music.

“I can’t leave the house without my technology,” she said. “At the end of the day, technology is going everyone a way of doing things and letting people know you have something to say.”

No longer does an aspiring songwriter or performer have to beg a record label to release a record. With social media, people can get heard. “It makes independent people more confident in their independence.”

Crews noted that technology gives every America a voice in the stories of the contestants America’s Got Talent.

“They get a vote and they get to say who wins and who goes on to the next level and it’s like every American is now part of that story,” he said.

Crews added that technology gives people more control over their entertainment. “I remember having to watch whatever was on when I was a kid, but now you can pick and choose at any time what you want, when you want it. And you can restrict it,” he said, noting that his kids are limited to an hour and a half of screen watching a day.

Social media is also powerful, he said, noting that it after Brooklyn 99, produced by NBCU, was canceled by Fox, the outcry from fans helped convince NBC to revive it.

“Technology liberates consumers. They have a voice and that’s when it really works,” he said.

Jon Lafayette

Jon has been business editor of Broadcasting+Cable since 2010. He focuses on revenue-generating activities, including advertising and distribution, as well as executive intrigue and merger and acquisition activity. Just about any story is fair game, if a dollar sign can make its way into the article. Before B+C, Jon covered the industry for TVWeek, Cable World, Electronic Media, Advertising Age and The New York Post. A native New Yorker, Jon is hiding in plain sight in the suburbs of Chicago.