When ESPN Met PewDiePie: A Day at TheGrill

/ Sep 26, 2013


What did attendees of TheGrill, the eclectic mix of executives and industry leaders brought together by TheWrap, get from the discussion?

Well, they got to find out what “Modern Family” star Julie Bowen thinks will happen during this Sunday’s series finale of “Breaking Bad.” (No spoilers here.) But they also were treated to a number of panels and speakers who highlighted the transition point the industry currently finds itself in — knowingly and unknowingly. Any event where discussion of domestic box office and PewDiePie share the same stage (albeit at different times) can’t help but be fascinating.

For while many of those speaking were conscious of the ways in which digital distribution has been disrupting things, there were still vestiges of the old world. For example, ESPN president John Skipper, during his time on stage, declared that there are currently 180 million pay TV subscribers — same as there were a few years ago, and same as there will be next year.

He held that number up as a point of pride, and 180 million isn’t small potatoes. But when your numbers don’t get bigger or smaller, that’s what we call plateauing.

Meanwhile, Ynon Kreiz of Maker predicted huge growth for his company. “Last year, we tripled our numbers — next year, we’re going to triple them again,” he said. In contrast to other speakers, Kreiz was full of optimism for the future — easy to do, when your combined channels get billions of views a month.

And Kreiz was clear to define Maker as more than just a collection of YouTube channels. “We’re a next generation media and technology company…we couldn’t get to [where we are] without technology,” he said. Maker’s employees include 45 engineers to make that possible.

YouTube is of course a part of that strategy — but just a part of it. “We see YouTube as our biggest and best partner… Our mission is to reach as many people as we can. Not everyone is on YouTube all the time,” he said.

That last element is key, as a majority of Maker’s audience is now international — 55 percent, to be exact. “What we aim to do is harness that and build more international foundations and infrastructure and relationships,” he said.

At this time, according to Kreiz, the “vast majority” of Maker’s views originate on YouTube, but with the acquisition of Blip and the establishment of an independent sales team, this is ripe for change. “It was a very natural fit, they slid into the role — it accelerated what we were planning to do anyways. It was right on our road map,” he said of the Blip acquisition.

Another highlight for new media was Netflix CCO Ted Sarandos. While the closest he got to breaking news was the announcement that there was “no question” of there being another season of “Arrested Development” — dependent on the schedules of the huge, busy cast — his entire presentation was a reminder that Netflix has found a model that not only works for its original content, but bolsters the fortunes of other series.

This especially applied to the all-at-once distribution model which Netflix has pioneered, with Sarandos comparing the experience to reading the same novel as your friends. “No one is on the same page at the same time, but they could talk about it at dinner — they figure out what common ground they have, then talk about the tone the the storytelling, not that they happen to be on the same page at the same time,” he said.

According to Sarandos the most-watched episode of “Breaking Bad” on Monday night was the show’s pilot. “Binge is a behavior that’s happening, and we’re definitely enabling it and driving it,” he said.

One interesting thing to come out of the Netflix discussion was that while Netflix is currently happy to work as a distributor for studio content, there may come a situation down the line where it tries to completely own its original content

The reason? Foreign deals — because Netflix operates in multiple international territories, it complicates deals with its studio partners, who are hoping to sell these shows overseas. “One day we will, out of necessity, totally own the product, but we’re working through it right now,” he said.

TheGrill wasn’t short of innovation outside of these sessions: For example, ESPN is trying some bold stuff, including Project Blueprint, a potentially seismic effort to accurately measure its actual viewership across all screens.

But that comes in contrast to Electus’s Ben Silverman, who proudly declared that he’s already able to see the exact viewership of his YouTube audience, break it down by demographic and nationality. “It’s not a sample size, it’s the audience,” he said.

Header image via TheWrap

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