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CES: Leaders Fast Forward to TV Watching in 2019

In a rousing, wide-ranging discussion, Thursday's CES panel "How We Will Watch TV in Five Years" delivered a steady flow of insight and a fitting capoff to a thought-provoking week in Las Vegas.

Twitter TV chief Fred Graver, Redbox Instant CEO Shawn Strickland and Starz chief strategy officer John Penney offered seasoned takes from varying perspectives, addressing themes including user interfaces, content discovery, personalization and privacy.

"The most exciting thing that I'm seeing out there is technology that helps the content find you instead of you needing to find content," Graver said. Throughout the CES exhibition halls, "there has been an all-out embrace by TV set manufacturers, cable and satellite companies, device manufacturers and programmers of the idea to rewrite the rules of discovery."

To that point, Strickland said Verizon execs "are actively debating internally whether we need a (programming) guide on FiOS. Do you even need a guide that sits on a console or a box?" Graver said the trick is to leverage the desire for a guide but with new solutions. If Comcast's programming guide were a website, he noted, its traffic would make it the second-most-visited site in the U.S., especially since Nielsen research shows half of all viewers begin watching without a clear intent to watch a particular show.

The democratization of content discovery and social platforms also pointing up major flaws in the financing of production and traditional network operations, and panelists argued that it will be a vastly different landscape in five years' time. "We can make web series about Rome for a dollar apiece," Graver said. "But we can't make the series Rome, except for maybe $10 million an episode." Penney interjected with a smile, "That's about the right number, I was at HBO at the time."

Penney said the inefficiencies of old funding models are more and more exposed in the current climate. "We can put $4 million into an hour of scripted television and then have to market it and in an ad-supported world, it can be pulled off the air after a few episodes. That's sunk capital that is not coming back." Instead of throwing good money after bad, Penney said, more emphasis should be put on the collaborations with tech partners that will enable the content to connect with viewers. In 2019, the main industry challenge will be one that mainline tech players have faced for decades. "The business battle will be over the power of the network," Penney said.

And speaking of battles, Graver singled out the CBS-Time Warner Cable standoff from summer 2013 as a defining moment and one that speaks to the five-year outlook for TV. "That was a showdown about 'content is important,'" Graver said. CBS chief Les Moonves "was fighting a battle for a lot of people in that showdown," Graver said.

"Not for me," Strickland wryly replied.