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Next TV SF: TV Execs Mull Changing Business Models

San Francisco — Bridget Baker remembers the good old days.

Speaking June 15 at the NextTV Summit & Expo, the former NBCUniversal distribution executive sounded nostalgic when she recalled the heyday of linear TV, when NBC’s “Must-See TV” mid-90s Thursday line-up was drawing upwards of 50 million viewers, with everyone tuning in to catch the latest episodes of Friends and ER.

Today? A top-rated show will draw a quarter of that in the Nielsen ratings.

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“It’s harder than ever [for linear],” Baker said. “The whole model needs to be re-thought.”

Baker and her fellow panelists may have reminisced about the past, but they were all on the same page: The digital era has forced legacy content companies to rethink how they deliver — and monetize — their product. That means TV Everywhere, OTT services, and licensing your property to the outlets consumers latch on to the most.

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Brent Smith, president, CTO and cofounder of digital distribution tech company Evolution Digital, said that despite cord-cutting and the shift away from linear TV viewing, traditional pay TV providers still “have the eyeballs” of consumers. Yet  when it comes to technology and innovation, “they lag behind,” he added.

Cable, satellite and telco companies are only recently reacting to the digital realities of today’s younger consumer, Smith said, and the oft-maligned millennial consumer is the audience content companies need to catch up with.

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“No one questions whether they’re [watching content],” he said. “It’s are they going to pay for it.”

Millennials will pay for your product, according to Rob Gabel, CEO of cross-platform video analytics company Tubular Labs. But only if traditional content companies do away with the idea of running “thirty-second pre-roll [that] was created for technology created in the 1950s.”

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“[Millennials] don’t want to see an ad,” Gebel said. “’Why am I stopping what I’m watching to see a Clorox ad?’” Targeted ads and ads before programming are ways around that, he added, but in general, if you want to get a buck out of millennials, just focus on convenience, he said. That generation will happily pay for things to be made easy, he stressed.

That’s something Sarnoff — and maybe every parent of a millennial — can relate to. She noted that the younger generation is generally “tethered” to family content accounts. “Everyone wants [the content],” she said. “The issue is they’re not being trained to pay for things.”