Broadcasters Shouldn’t Fear Netflix, Even As It Takes Viewers, Research Guru Says

Yes, Netflix is winning over a lot of television viewers — and digital media are taking dollars from broadcast and cable networks. But not to worry, CBS Chief Research Officer David Poltrack told the UBS  Global Media and Communications Conference today in his annual business forecast. Netflix still heavily depends on TV network programming, and pays up to syndicate shows. And TV networks expect to see growth from TV Everywhere and ad-supported VOD where fresh commercials can be dynamically inserted over time.

To that end, CBS is about to test the impact of Comcast On Demand Commercial Ratings using episodes of its new show Madame Secretary. It should, Poltrack says, provide “an additional incentive for advertisers to move to C7 guarantees” — where advertisers pay for eyeballs reached in the week after a show first airs — from the current three-day norm.

The CBS research guru used much of his presentation to rebut a controversial October report by Bernstein Research’s Todd Juenger who said TV networks were shooting themselves in the foot by selling shows to Netflix. Viewers who are attracted to Netflix likely won’t come back to ad-supported TV and the trend “is more likely to accelerate than decline,” he said.

But Poltrack notes that “syndication builds a viewer base for series” and “Netflix doesn’t compete with us for advertising dollars.” What’s more, the cash it pays to license reruns helps to fund new shows. “You have to look at the big picture. Yes, Netflix is a formidable competitor. But they’re a valuable partner as well.”

The streaming power also poses less of a challenge to broadcast TV than you might think, he says. Kids account for much of its viewing audience. And Poltrack estimates that Netflix originals including Orange Is The New Black and House Of Cards only account for about 6.6% of all its adult viewing. Those two shows premiered in 2013: It’s been “more than a year since Netflix introduced a true new hit…Netflix is a player in the original content business but they do not appear to have found a magic formula for success in that business.”

Still, Poltrack acknowledges that Netflix was primarily responsible for the 3% drop this season in Nielsen’s measure of homes using television. Some 34% of homes have Netflix, up from 22% last year. There’s also “more streamed viewing of television in Netflix homes than a year ago,” he says. “What we don’t know is what programs are being streamed and from where they’re being streamed.”

He also says that television is being hurt by people who cut, scale back, or don’t pick up pay TV. The percent of homes with broadband that don’t use broadcast or pay TV increased to 2.6% from 1.2% in 2013. Homes with broadband and broadcast TV increased to 5.5% from 5.0%. And those watching broadcast TV, but that don’t have broadband, grew to 5.1% from 4.7%.

For his 2015 ad sales forecast, Poltrack says that the broadcast networks will see no change from 2014. Although there’ll be fewer dollars going to TV, the major players will take market share from cable. Like many forecasters, he was surprised that “the advertising market never gained any momentum in 2014.” But he adds that his new forecast may prove to be conservative as companies, emboldened by the improving economy, step up their product launches. “Things really do seem to be getting better.”

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