Published on AdWeek
From streaming flexibility to old reality franchises having Golden moments
With macroeconomic conditions affecting advertising and Hollywood strikes affecting content, 2023 was a year of lessons for the TV and streaming industry.
So, as part of Adweek’s year-in-review TV coverage, we asked 28 TV executives and insiders to explain the most important thing they learned this year.
From focusing on flexibility as the industry shifts toward streaming to older reality franchises like Survivor and The Bachelor having new, Golden moments as networks leaned on unscripted, here are the most important lessons learned by TV execs, ad sales chiefs and buyers in 2023:
Dani Benowitz, president, U.S. and global, Magna: It is important to continue to shift our thinking to a redefined definition of TV. TV is a device, not a channel. Video, as we should call it, remains an important part of the media mix, with significant budgets spent on TV and streaming. And video is expansive, encompassing 54% of media consumption, so it’s a disservice to distill to just “TV.”
Diana Bernstein, evp and managing director of investment, Havas Media Network: A reminder of the importance of transparency and partnership. As an industry, we saw the difficulty surrounding economic predictions throughout the year, which increased the need for continued communication and flexibility. Being able to come to the table in true partnership to discuss the good, the bad and everything in between is more important than ever as we work to make meaningful decisions that drive business. As we continue to push innovation, we need to ensure a strong foundation along with open and collaborative partnerships across clients, media suppliers and agencies.
Frances Berwick, chairman, NBCUniversal Entertainment: This year reinforced the power of fandom and brand loyalty. Bravo is one of the strongest brands in television with an extremely passionate and dedicated fan base. Look no further than BravoCon 2023—a three-day fan event in Las Vegas with more than 20,000 attendees that sold out in seconds and dominated the pop culture conversation in the following weeks.
Geoffrey Calabrese, chief investment officer, Omnicom Media Group North America: Quite honestly, the lack of readiness the industry has for the shift of currency and measurement. I feel here at OMG, we are so far ahead of the competition and are truly in the enviable position of now leading our partners down this path with us. Literally creating the future.
David Campanelli, evp and chief investment officer, Horizon Media: That the speed of change is faster than ever. Especially in the streaming space (how quickly properties launch, grow, add commercial tiers, change content/programming strategies, sports shifting to streaming, etc.) where things seem to change by the day.
Kelly Campbell, president of Peacock and DTC, NBCUniversal: I’m reminded daily of the importance of a strong team culture to a company’s success. A hallmark of the Peacock culture is encouraging employees across the business to bring forward creative or scrappy ideas that could make a meaningful impact. Whether it’s an unexpected marketing partnership, an original series pitch or a new internal collaboration initiative, we make sure that good ideas are always heard and considered.
Sean Downey, president of Americas and global partners, Google and YouTube: What I learned this year is that when you make great content available for football fans and consumers, including engaging creator content next to great NFL content, the interaction that happens is magical for viewers.
Craig Erwich, president, Disney Television Group: The importance of being flexible and able to adapt to change, which always brings opportunities. In 2023, ABC was able to dip into our unparalleled unscripted vault of classics and launch a brand new iteration of one of our longest-running franchises, The Golden Bachelor, which helped the network reach No.1 in entertainment in the demo in the fall for the first time since 2020.
Rita Ferro, global advertising president, Disney: It’s the importance of saying yes and running toward opportunities. With the velocity of change of what’s happening in our business, you can’t overthink things too much. You just gotta go for it and swing high for the fences. And we’ve done that. We did that with all the technology enhancements we’ve rolled out, everything we’ve done around measurement, everything we’ve done around the rollout of Disney+ around the world.
Kathleen Finch, chairman and CEO of US Networks, Warner Bros. Discovery: Flexibility is a highly underrated professional skill. We now need to serve audiences wherever they’re consuming content, and that’s constantly changing. Staying ahead of new viewer habits requires fast thinking and breaking long-held rules about scheduling, windowing and other facets of production.
Marianne Gambelli, president of advertising sales, marketing and brand partnerships, Fox Corporation: It’s not a new lesson, but one that really shone through this year: It’s all about the team. Surround yourself with the best people—open, genuine, hardworking people. Our team’s ability to be there for each other, in good times and bad, their dedication, their tenacity, their creativity and, most importantly, their kindness show me every day how lucky I am to work at Fox with the best there is.
John Halley, president, Paramount Advertising: We are living in an extraordinary moment as the media business transitions to the future. The challenges are shared by all and are too big to be solved independently. So the working model of media has become centered on collaboration: standards, integration, interoperability, collective vision. The power of industry partnership can move mountains. The absence of it guarantees failure. Go it alone at your own risk.
Alison Hoffman, president of domestic networks, Starz: 2023 certainly reiterated the importance of partnership in this industry. Of course, our creative partners have and will always be unequivocally essential. But we’ve seen a renewed focus on distribution and marketing partnerships among platforms to drive growth and stability for the business and value to the customer.
Kim Kelleher, chief commercial officer, AMC Networks: This year absolutely underscored the value of partnerships and longstanding mutually beneficial relationships in helping to navigate a shifting media landscape. As a team, we have learned to work outside our comfort zone—challenging ourselves to rethink longstanding structures and processes—to approach all partnerships through what we are seeing in real time today, not what we have seen in the past.
Chris McCarthy, president and CEO, Showtime/MTV Entertainment Studios and Paramount Media Networks: I’ve relearned the wisdom of Hannah Arendt’s belief that great “storytelling reveals meaning without committing the error of defining it.” Whether it is Lawmen: Bass Reeves’ portrayal of an untold story of a Black American hero or the deeply emotional mental health narratives in Wolf Pack, the power of the storytelling comes from the nuance of the writing and the extraordinary talent of our casts.
Peter Olsen, president of ad sales, A+E Networks: Maintaining a positive culture matters more than ever in this time of disruption.
Mark Marshall, chairman of global advertising and partnerships, NBCUniversal: 2023 served as a reminder that change is not only inevitable but can happen seemingly overnight. It is essential to surround yourself with strong leaders and trusted partners who have the courage and enthusiasm to collaborate and innovate side-by-side with you for the betterment of the industry. While change is the constant, the goal of making our advertisers’ marketing more effective is what drives us every day.
Shelby Saville, chief investment officer, Publicis Media Exchange: I learned that determining a currency and alternative audience measurement systems will continue to be a difficult task. The marketplace and investment infrastructure are extremely complex, so finding one system that works across all screens or every client KPI doesn’t currently exist.
Amy Reisenbach, president, CBS Entertainment: We are thrilled with the performance of the 90-minute episodes of Survivor and The Amazing Race. It really taught us we can experiment more with the schedule.
Dina Roman, svp of global ad sales, Fubo: In a sports-first, live-TV streaming environment like Fubo, managing concurrency is essential. There can be massive, sometimes unexpected spikes in viewership in a single hour, as opposed to AVOD or SVOD formats. It’s critical that from an advertising perspective, we are always prepared to deliver a seamless ad experience and monetize our live sports content effectively.
Rob Sharenow, president of programming, A+E Networks: I was reminded of the truism from Field of Dreams that applies to our industry: If you build it, they will come. We had great success with a lot of new formats that have connected with audiences. I’m extremely proud of our team because, since Covid-19 hit, we’ve launched at least 10 new series that have already reached the 100-episode mark.
Kristina Shepard, vp global advertising and sales partnerships, Roku: Advertisers cutting the cord is happening. Cord-cutting, which began as a trickle around 2007, has turned into a flood. We know that for decades advertisers turned to linear television to reach a mass-market audience. However, 2023 was a milestone shift in viewership behavior. Linear TV fell below 50% of total viewing in the U.S. for the first time, and advertisers took note. Now more advertisers are seeking a more strategic option: streaming. As we look toward 2024, we’re excited to see what inspiring and innovative campaigns will hit the (CTV) screen in 2024.
Donna Speciale, president of U.S. advertising sales and marketing, TelevisaUnivision: It’s no secret that the threat of economic uncertainty has been weighing on our industry and our society this year, but in the face of this, the most important thing I learned was the resilience and optimism of the Hispanic community—one that is driven by pride in culture, and one that I believe we can all strive to embrace and emulate.
Jon Steinlauf, chief U.S. advertising sales officer, Warner Bros. Discovery: The convergence of linear and streaming advertising and helping advertisers find the best balance between the two. By combining linear and streaming and data, we can work with clients to extend reach for their strategic targets through the power of the WBD brands.
Stacey Stewart, chief marketplace officer, UM Worldwide: Change is inevitable. Focus on and prioritize what is important.
Matt Sweeney, chief investment officer, GroupM US: We’ve made great progress in quality measurement across the TV and video landscape, and there is still work to do when it comes to full implementation of advanced currencies that were not as evident over the past few years of testing. 2024 will continue to see higher quality counting and reconciliation of ad exposures, but back-end systems and workflows need to be brought up to the standards of the front-end tools that we’ve been using to plan and execute advanced audience buys. As we move from millions to billions of dollars transacted using advanced measurement, we want to be sure that the systems and workflows work for all key players.
Rob Wade, CEO, Fox Entertainment: As our industry faces an inflection point, we’re seeing a rediscovery of linear’s value as a leading launchpad for content—and an effective partner with streaming, in our case Hulu, in reaching bigger and different audiences.
Carly Zipp, global director of brand marketing, Amazon Ads: With all the challenges and changes that this industry has faced this year, I feel like we’ve come out the other side stronger and smarter. In a lot of ways, it has been exciting to be inventive, flexible and creative with how we work. I think the one biggest takeaway from this year has been highlighting how important it is to focus on quality over quantity—to maximize our efforts where it matters most. I consistently emphasize to my team the mantra of “fewer, bigger, better.”