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TV Chiefs From Starz, NBC, Amazon and Showtime Weigh in on Merger Disruption and the Content Arms Race

Variety — Will Thorne

Several of television’s top executives gathered at Variety‘s TV Summit to discuss the content arms race that’s being caused by the impending launch of new streaming platforms and the major disruptions happening in the industry as a result of the flurry of recent mega-mergers.

After the Disney-Fox merger led to a slew of layoffs, NBC co-chairman Paul Telegdy weighed in on the changes that the Comcast acquisition of Sky has brought to the day-to-day at the network.

“It’s been a great transition. There’s very little friction and overlap between the businesses, which is always desirable in a big acquisition,” Telegdy said. “You won’t have a lot of people worrying about where their next paycheck is coming from. We’ve had a stable, non-complacent role in the last 18 months.”

As far as how collaborations between NBC and Sky will play out, Telegdy said it’s still too early to tell, but made sure to emphasize that they are both taking the time to develop a “deep synergy” as opposed to looking for “quick content wins.”

With NBC prepping a streaming platform of its own, slated to launch in 2020, Telegdy also addressed the question of whether the network might be overshadowed as a result.

“The Peacock’s on the logo and what we really are is the primary content engine for the creation of a lot of series,” Telegdy said. “Rumors of our demise have long been overstated, but we’ve come out of a very strong upfront.”

The panel later pivoted to a discussion on the content arms race which seems to be escalating as more and more players enter the content business and production values soar.

Execs from neither Netflix nor HBO were present on the panel. However, the execs addressed the quantity of content being produced by the former and the budget disruptions being caused by the latter. Starz COO Jeffrey Hirsch said that the cabler has always positioned itself as the “cherry on top of television,” and the eye-popping amount Netflix is spending on content won’t change Starz’s approach.

“I think Netflix is trying to replace television, they’re trying to be all things to everybody and I also think they’ve done a phenomenal job of convincing everyone on Wall Street, everyone in this room, that you have to spend $13 billion to compete and so if you don’t have that kind of money why don’t just close down and go home because you can’t do it,” Hirsch said. “But there’s room for a premium service to be sold on top of everybody and that’s how we’ve been positioned, that’s how we’ve been successful, and that means that our content is unique and special. There’s always going to be a place for us and we don’t have to spend $13 billion to be successful.”

Meanwhile Amazon Studios COO and co-head of TV Albert Cheng said the streamer’s approach is to look for quality and global appeal over quantity.

“When you look around, everyone’s spending a lot of money. I think when we come back to how we’re going to approach this space, it’s really about how much investment do we need to make in a specific show to serve the creative and make the best version of it possible. When you work with the creatives, that is the ultimate goal,” Cheng said. “We’re not in the business of creating a lot of content, a lot of volume, but we are in the business of making sure that we remind our customers why they come back every year and renew their subscription.”

Weighing in on the content arms race, Showtime president Gary Levine issued a light-hearted gibe at his cabler rival HBO and a certain fantasy epic which recently came to a monumental end.

“The competitive environment has definitely raised costs,” Levine began. “But I do not subscribe to the idea that bigger is necessarily better. Even with ‘Game of Thrones’ no one the next day was saying, ‘Holy cow, do you know how much they spent on that episode?’ They were talking about the story and the characters. They even made one in the dark — they could have spent nothing. Just shut the lights and do a radio play.”

Tubi CCO Adam Lewinson said the ad-supported video service is “riding the wave of disruption.”

“We’re all reacting to the ripple effect of Netflix and there’s a tremendous amount of opportunity,” he said. “For us, we’re independent so we work with pretty much all the studios and there’s a compatible business model between Silicon Valley, the disruption that’s come with it, and the traditional, and it’s all meeting in the middle.”

Toward the end of the panel, each executive discussed the biggest challenges and opportunities they are facing as the TV landscape shifts on a seemingly daily basis, and AMC president Sarah Barnett closed proceedings on a positive note.

“The different voices telling stories today [are] so bloody exciting and I think that’s real and I think we’re all engaging in that in ways that are not just cant, not just lip service,” she said. “We have a long way to go in many ways, but I think different people telling stories in new ways is going to be, and is already, the lifeblood of what is reinventing storytelling in our industry.”

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