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HRTS Panel: 'Age of Disruption' Forces Networks to Find New Ways to Target Viewers

Beverly Hills, Calif. -- Today's television landscape is rapidly changing.

"We have entered an age of disruption where all the practices and traditions we've had for the last 50 years are now just flying out windows," Ted Harbert, chairman of NBC Broadcasting, said during Tuesday's Hollywood Radio & Television Society's annual "State of the Industry" Newsmaker Luncheon.

Harbert and the other panelists grappled with how best to cope with the erosion of traditional means of TV consumption. He went on to explain that more viewers are choosing to watch programming more than three days after a show's air date. Because of the delayed viewing, networks have to find alternate ways to measure and monetize.

Michael Lombardo, president of programming for HBO, countered that real time viewing -- as opposed to binge or delayed viewing -- won't go away, arguing that watching programs is still a shared experience that people enjoy taking part in.

"When you have a show like Sons of Anarchy that premieres, you look at social network the next morning and there's a phenomenon that happens," said Lombardo. "There is a shared experience that is one of the few shared experiences that we have anymore." He later added that there's a plethora of high quality series that makes this a great time for viewers but a not so great time for programmers.

"There are a lot of shows on a lot of networks losing money," said Harbert. He went on to say that at some point, programmers will have to start telling producers and writers that there are not enough viewers to watch.

In addition to the bevy of content out there, some consumers watch shows in shorter segments and on a variety of devices. This further complicates the systems of monetization. But Andy Forssell, acting CEO and senior VP of content for Hulu, argued that when and how viewers watch a show doesn't matter. "With great user experience, I don't think these are problems. I think they're opportunities."

Programmers now have the chance to specifically tailor advertising and related content to specific viewers. Tim Spengler, Worldwide CEO for Magna Global, suggested that ad spending will shift from demographics, such as education or geographic location, to online behavior that looks at the types of shows a person watches.

"So if you're on the toilet, I want to serve you a Charmin ad immediately while you're on the john," Spengler said, eliciting laughs from the audience. While advertising hasn't gotten to that point quite yet, he said that the technology is there and legacy forms of advertising will soon give way.

John Landgraf, CEO of FX Networks and FX Productions, pointed out that linear television is still a huge part of the viewing experience. "The vast majority of television consumption is wallpaper," he said. "It's TV on. People want the TV on in their house and there's an enormous amount of it that's just that kind of viewing." He argued that because so many people use TV as background noise, linear TV won't go away.

The recent retrans dispute between CBS and Time Warner Cable also came up during luncheon. Harbert, who makes the deals for NBC Broadcasting, said that it's not worth getting into who won or who lost, but that it's good for the networks if Les Moonves, president and CEO of CBS Corp., was able to get more money. Down the pike, the deal will then help other networks in their retrans negotiations, Harbert argued.

 "I don't think this serves the viewer," Harbert added. "I don't think any of us want that to happen. It shouldn't happen in the future, and I hope that everybody gets a hold of themselves."