"If Twitter is the telephone, we're the conversation."
That comment was a highlight of Fortune Brainstorm Tech's "Future of Television" discussion on Thursday—even though the person who said it wasn't in the room.
No offense to the panelists on stage: Disney (DIS) Media Networks co-chair Anne Sweeney, CBS (CBS) exec Nancy Tellem, and NBC Universal's (CMCSA) Lauren Zalaznick. But the remark--which moderator Jason Hirschhorn said former MTV Networks (VIA) CEO Judy McGrath uttered to him--nails the point about what programmers must do today: Go two-way and way beyond the TV screen.
What makes a hit? TV ratings still matter, of course, but social engagement can make or break a show in this digital era. Tellem, who is senior advisor to CBS chief Leslie Moonves, pointed to Gossip Girl on the CW network (of which CBS is a part owner). The series, by measure of TV eyeballs when episodes premiere, might be considered a dud--or at least "a conundrum," which is what Tellem called the show. But TV execs learned to love Gossip Girl because the target--young women and teenage girls--are passionate viewers online, via iTunes (AAPL), Hulu, Netflix (NFLX), video on demand, DVR, whatever. Plus, Gossip Girl's 9.8 million Facebook fans chat and tweet up a storm.
Meanwhile, on ABC, Grey's Anatomy and Modern Family have huge audiences who time-shift viewing via DVR--and typically skip commercials. Which is why Zalaznick says: "The DVR is the biggest legal pirate there ever was....We've enabled legal piracy." Zalaznick, who oversees NBCU's Entertainment & Digital Networks and Integrated Media, made the point that TV execs must learn how to make good money serving consumers who want their TV shows anytime and everywhere.
Moreover, building a hit is ever more complicated. Big social buzz—top Twitter trends, for instance--is less predictive of big TV ratings than it used to be, said Zalaznick. The reason? Social-media noise is getting so loud, it's challenging forecasters. "We're at a turning point," she added.
So the TV execs soldier on. The web's exploding social-media platforms--Twitter, Facebook, and other second and third "screens" beyond the tube—invite them to get a lot more creative with their products and build profits too. Meanwhile, Zalaznick reminded the group of the everlasting No. 1 challenge: "It is really hard to make excellent stuff about compelling characters that you want to see over and over again."
The social web used to be about accumulating fans. Now it's about building engagement.
OK, but how do you do this most effectively?
By constantly experiment, advised Susan Lyne, who chairs one of the fastest-growing online retailers, Gilt Groupe. "If you do a lot of little things, you'll find the big things that scale," she said on a panel called "The New Consumer Conversation" this morning at Fortune Brainstorm Tech.
While experimentation tends MOREPatricia Sellers - Jul 20, 2011 2:59 PM ET
by Patricia Sellers and Jessica Shambora
We took a break from posting our daily Power Point--Postcards' quote of the day--last week, but we collected more than a few good ones at Fortune Brainstorm Tech in Pasadena. Here are our 10 favorites, from the mouths of media moguls, tech titans, Tweeters and more.
"It's not really my thing. I don't go to the dentist. I don't do things that cause me to emote." MOREJessica Shambora, Writer-Reporter - Jul 28, 2009 12:09 PM ET
by Patricia Sellers
On Tuesday night, during a dinner conversation about the growth of Facebook and the potential of Twitter, I tossed out a phrase that I can"t get out of my head these past three days at Fortune Brainstorm Tech in California. The conversation was with a dozen or so Silicon Valley execs, from companies like Google (GOOG) and eBay (EBAY) and Palm (PALM), and they were noting that Twitter hasn't invested MOREPatricia Sellers - Jul 24, 2009 3:48 PM ET
I'm just back from three weeks away. I vowed to keep Postcards up to date while I was gone, and with the help of the incomparable Jessica Shambora, the enterprising reporter we hired in June, we did it! We're posting twice a day--including a daily Power Point, which is a piece of career advice or strategic insight that might help you navigate your career and even your life. At least, MOREPatricia Sellers - Jul 28, 2008 4:13 PM ET
"In this world of fragmentation, any leadership position is extremely valuable because people are so much harder to reach."
-- News Corp. (NWS) president and COO Peter Chernin, in an interview with my colleague Richard Siklos last week at Fortune Brainstorm Tech. Chernin also said that innovation is today's "central management challenge."Patricia Sellers - Jul 28, 2008 3:44 PM ET
As any serial conference-goer can tell you, the conversations that occur outside the scheduled panels and sessions offer equally compelling opportunities for learning and discovery. This was perhaps even more true at this week's Fortune Brainstorm Tech conference due to the broad spectrum of attendees from the wide world of technology.
On Tuesday evening, during an uncharacteristically clear sunset over Half Moon Bay, I met Dina Kaplan, co-founder and COO of blip.tv, a video-sharing MOREJessica Shambora, Writer-Reporter - Jul 24, 2008 7:40 AM ET
Simplicity wins. This is the message that I'm taking away so far at Fortune's Brainstorm Tech here in Half Moon Bay, California.
To frame the themes of this year's powwow -- which opened Monday afternoon with Michael Dell (DELL) and Amazon (AMZN) CEO Jeff Bezos (pictured right) -- my colleague David Kirkpatrick asked participants what is the most exciting technology innovation of the last 12 months. The most popular answer: the iPhone. That MOREPatricia Sellers - Jul 22, 2008 2:44 PM ET
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