In her first major speech since taking over the post of CEO of Endemol Shine Group, Sophie Turner Laing today sounded a defense of the TV business, and offered up considerations for the future of the fast-evolving landscape. In a talk that might have been just as suited for the UK’s prestigious MacTaggart Lecture, the former Sky exec spoke about changing times and the abundance of choice now available to viewers. But, she countered recent debate that there’s too much television. “Isn’t having an abundance of things to watch a rather high-class problem to have? It means the bar is continuously pushed higher and for our audiences better as a result,” she intoned.
Endemol Shine was officially formed in October last year via a tie-up of 21st Century Fox-owned Shine and Apollo Global Management-controlled Endemol and CORE Media. It was a major shift in the international production/distribution landscape, bringing the makers of Big Brother, Masterchef and American Idol together and creating a new mega-indie. Turner Laing today spoke to skeptics of such a mass entity, saying, “I sometimes get frustrated when people describe Endemol Shine by size alone. Some of you,” she told marketgoers this evening, “will view consolidation and growth of the mega-indies as a worrying trend for our industry. I don’t believe for a minute that consolidation, foreign ownership or size and scale mean one thing or another for creativity.”
Speaking of the current Golden Age that nevertheless has led some to sound the death-knell of television given so much choice and secondary screens, Turner Laing said: “Looking at some of the programming here in Cannes, it’s clear the bar is very high. And, although fragmented, viewership is holding up with viewers watching an average of nearly four hours a day in Europe and more in North America. TV, it seems, has never been in better health. So why can it sometimes feel that as an industry, TV sometimes struggles with its self-esteem, consistently feeling under threat and highlighting its shortcomings?”
Despite repeated concerns that television is nearing its demise, she said, “There is always a perceived new enemy. But I simply don’t share that view… I genuinely believe that for us as an industry and for us as content creators, we have never had it so good.”
Turner Laing said of digital outlets, “Clearly they are having an impact on the funding and distribution models than what we’re used to.” She gave a shout-out to Netflix’s House Of Cards, which she said took a “brilliantly old-fashioned” approach to the flagship series with a proven format with A-list talent, a great fan base and track record while making it available as widely as possible. “It was marketed and curated as a brand from the outside with terrific use of social media to keep viewers rapt and engaged.”
Still, “By itself, social media doesn’t get close to the bond between a program and a viewer who has settled down to relax after a long day at the office,” she said. With Twitter so active in the U.S. about TV, it’s clear that demand has never been so strong, Turner Laing noted. “That calls into question any lack of confidence of television’s power to be at the forefront of the battle for people’s eyeballs and attention. People want to devour stories of whatever genre. Demand has never been so strong.”
Technology is not a culprit, Turner Laing said. Nor has there been “too much good television.” She then wondered if people remembered a “distinctly non-Golden Age when there were loads of channels with bugger all on?”
So, how to navigate the new world? Today, “producers of content need to think more broadly. We need to focus on building a direct relationship with our customers and that means moving our center of gravity even further towards a focus on our programs as brands. The power of brands has never more important… They act as insurance policies to the viewer… Audiences respond to that simple human emotion of trust.”
She also touched on the company’s new deal with AwesomenssTV which expands its international reach. “In the old days it was simple, you either owned something or competed with it. Today, collaboration is the new world order.”
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