OTT Summit: Robert L. Johnson Stresses Importance of Content and New Distribution Model

Marina del Rey, Calif. — OTT channels can succeed in today’s fragmented content world, said Robert L. Johnson, founder of BET Networks and founder and chairman of the RLJ Companies, Thursday during the OTT & Video Distribution Summit. 

“You just got to build a better mouse trap,” Johnson told Tom Umstead, senior content producer Multichannel News, who moderated the keynote discussion a "Pioneer's Perspective." “You just got to create more compelling content. You got to tell stories that haven’t been told. You got to find those creative people who can produce stories.”

Johnson is no stranger to telling stories. 

In 1980, he launched BET. After selling BET to Viacom in 2001, Johnson, who said he didn't want to "close up shop and go away," turned his focus to the RLJ Companies, a business network that includes RLJ Entertainment.

RLJ Entertainment has a heavy presence in the digital content space with OTT networks the African American targeted Urban Movie Channel and British movie and mystery diginet Acorn TV. AMC Networks recently agreed to acquire RLJ Entertainment

Johnson said that shifts in technology and the subsequent diversification of content gave rise to both BET and OTT networks. Today's digital revolution has torn down the traditional TV gatekeepers, taking the power away from cable operators.

”The industry in my opinion has to find a new model and that model might be a la carte,” said Johnson, adding that cable channel’s, particularly ones with narrow markets, will have some tough decisions going forward.

But Johnson said he doesn't think cable operators will disappear.

“As long as cable can provide internet service, it’s got a role to play, he said. "But for cable subscribers they are going to become the decision makers about what they watch and what they are willing to pay.”

The OTT & Video Distribution Summit is produced by B&C and Multichannel News parent Future plc.

Jessika is content engagement director of Broadcasting + Cable, Multichannel News and NextTV. She has been with the brands in various roles since 2013. In her current role, she works primarily behind the screen, keeping an eye on the website and fixing any site bugs. A graduate of USC Annenberg, Jessika has edited and reported on a variety of subjects for NextTV, including profiles on industry leaders and breaking news.