NBC exec describes changes in TV
October 27, 2010, digital media conference, San Francisco—in a morning keynote, Vivi Zigler, president of digital entertainment at NBC described the convergence of many disparate pieces into a new television system. TV people are moving towards digital production causing lots of change with much more change to come. There is ongoing tension between creative and technical people.
On the hardware side, technology becomes a utility because the content must change to fit the audiences. At NBC, the structure has changed to now group people with separate interests. The motivation was to get people to watch different groups function. Now, the groups are asking for some technologies. The technology and good content serve each other well.
Viewers are now seekers and want to keep interacting with the content, so the challenge is to extend content beyond the television. Shows now have to update their rhythm; time to write, produce, and finally to broadcast. The change to digital provides faster feed back and more information to the producers and writers so they can make appropriate changes. One caveat is that the creative people are learning they cannot just use a cookie-cutter approach because expectations are changing.
NBC.com has lots of engineers for software development, video technology, and broadcast engineering. These people want to be able to support the episodic flow so they must work to support digital functions like the web. One new function that's becoming prominent is the social site coordinator. This person is the coordinator between the content team and the technology team for all shows. Getting a digital person embedded in a writing group helps as the writers define the story and direction which eventually become scripts. The coordinator will identify the technology to support content in the future, because digital content is not only the expected photos, but also outtakes and cut scenes, on-set interviews with cast and director, and other materials that are available at a very small incremental cost to the production.
One area where digital people affected a production was increasing storytelling over time and space. The program "Heroes" was based on a graphic novel. When they started the episodic functions, they also started a new graphic novel in parallel to the show. Some of the characters in this graphic novel were defined by readers and migrated into the show. This combination of online graphic novel and broadcast story increased the dimensions of storytelling.
Bringing together these different elements required new communications across structural lines. Now the show runner, part of the creative team who organizes meetings, is looking for preproduction evaluations. This is unlike the past behaviors where they had no interest in working with the net. These preproduction evaluations are a very complex process. They define platforms and, before the scripts and pilots are done, hold a digital meeting where many ideas are exchanged.
Now they have over 100 shows online and are increasing their domain expertise with the demographics on the shows. The people on staff now have access to technology which enables fast customization of the shows. In addition, the creating casual games and apps which are tied into the show. They use technology and personalization to integrate the creative and technical aspects of a show, but also are developing a capitalization structure before the scripts are written.
In addition to creating targeted content for the viewers, they also have detailed conversations with the advertisers. As the broadcast ad budgets shrink, they are doing online creative things that tie the user to the advertiser. This is a big change from the past, and requires a new breed of people to work in this environment. In addition to technical people, video people, and design people, they also need a bridge person to translate across the boundaries. The person in demand is now a specific topic generalist who can talk to content and technical people to initialize content and address human expectations of a show.
When they go to analyze audiences they look at the subset of all the viewers which is still generates lots of data. They use both quantitative and qualitative information including focus groups to evaluate shows after the pilot was run. They tally plusses and minuses on the show over time. They understand that rabid fans are not representative of the overall viewer community so they analyze their data based on changes to patterns.
They look at all these endeavors as part of the overall production cost but also as a source of revenue. NBC.com as a separate profit and loss statement from the rest of the network. When they put original content online, they tracked the cause and effect of all the integrated functions to constantly monitor what is working and not working.
They now have global distribution aligned with domestic distribution. For example, the international distribution for Heroes was on the same day or date in foreign markets as in the US. In the past foreign distribution was delayed by weeks or months from domestic releases. They create geographic filters to identify potential spoilers due to time zone differences. The international distributors want the complete package of digital assets to enhance their local footprint.