NBCU, Verizon Execs Talk Content and Distribution at Paley Museum

Paley Center for Media in New York
The Paley Museum in New York. (Image credit: Ajay Suresh/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY 2.0)

The panel “If Content is King, Distribution is King Kong” went down at the Paley Center for Media’s Paley Museum in New York during the Paley International Council Summit. Sowmyanarayan Sampath, CEO, Verizon Consumer Group, and Matt Strauss, chairman, direct-to-consumer and international, NBCUniversal, spoke about attracting users to their services, and the best ways to keep them on board for the long haul. 

Stephanie Ruhle, host of The 11th Hour on MSNBC and senior business analyst, NBC News, was the moderator. Ruhle asked the panelists about combating customer churn. Sampath boasted about the low churn rate at Verizon Consumer Group and mentioned how the major streamers seek to work with Verizon to lower customer departure rates. 

Churn happens when things get complex for the user, Sampath said, such as an expiring credit card that nixes a subscription. “Churn management and retention is an art,” he said. “That’s what we are good at.”

He hinted at Verizon’s ability to “subtly nudge” users who might need a prompt to stay subscribed. 

Strauss mentioned the “infinite choice” of programming that consumers have, describing it as both a blessing and a curse. He said it’s on the networks in terms of “how easy it is to sign up and how easy it is to search and find all the choices that are available.”

Better partnering between networks and distributors and tech platforms, Strauss added, will lower churn rates. 

Matt Strauss of NBCU

Matt Strauss (Image credit: NBCU)

Ruhle also asked about the best way to get subscribers on board in the first place. Strauss spoke a bit about the launch of Peacock, at a point when the industry’s focus was on ad-free interfaces and binge viewing, he said. “It’s really not how most people watch television,” he countered. “Sometimes you don’t know what you want to watch.”

Peacock sought to “go beyond movies and TV [series],” he said. Borrowing a page from the broadcast playbook, sports and live news give the network a burst of urgency. “It’s what makes TV great, that it’s got a pulse,” he said.

Strauss also talked up Peacock’s $6 monthly price point. The mindset at launch was not to get all of users’ average five hours a day of TV viewing or all of their monthly TV spend, he said, but to get a significant piece of both. 

Strauss said the streaming wars are not winner-take-all: “There will be multiple streaming services.”

The Paley International Council Summit happens November 7-8 in New York. It bears the title “Breaking Boundaries: How New Ideas Are Reshaping Media.” Speakers include Eddy Cue, senior VP of services at Apple; David Kenny, executive chairman, Nielsen; and John Malone, chairman of Liberty Global. 

The panelists broke down whether streaming is starting to resemble cable in terms of bundling networks. “There’s likely going to be some reaggregation,” said Sampath. 

“I call it back to the future,” Strauss added. “If you’ve been in this industry long enough you do tend to repeat things.”

Ruhle brought up the frustration of never seeming to know which streamer a movie or series may be on. The panelists said it’s on the networks to improve the user experience. Sampath mentioned a massive Verizon investment in 5G. 

Strauss said, “I think we’ll look back in a few years, and realize how pedestrian streaming interfaces are.”

Michael Malone

Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy and New York magazine.