TERENCE SMITH: If these become widespread, if devices like the so-called
personal video recorders become widespread, some people believe that
they will actually change the way networks program and affect their
advertising base. Do you?
GARTH ANCIER: It's possible. I mean, what you're seeing in television
in general -- and it's not just limited to these boxes -- is in an increasingly
competitive atmosphere, what used to be true 20 years ago, which was
that you could put on sort of non-offensive programming and because
there were so few choices for the American public, they'd sort of be
forced to watch whatever was least offensive to them, the old Paul Klein
theory of least objectional programming, has shifted on its head to
now making shows that people want to see, demand to see, whether it's
"West Wing" or "ER" or whatever they particularly
like, that they'll make an appointment to see that show.
I think what's happening is actually that shows that were marginal shows,
that weren't particularly great shows or weren't special to some group
of people, are becoming less and less relevant in the universe of television,
and shows that are special to someone become more and more relevant
because those are the shows that audiences will search out.
TERENCE SMITH: Right. Now, if this -- if devices like these or if this
technology becomes widespread, the notion of appointment television
goes out the window.
ANCIER: It does, but it also makes it easier to watch those favorite
shows. I mean if you want to see "Will and Grace" and you
can just set your Replay report recorder, please tape "Will and
Grace" every time it's on the air, which you can do with these
machines, and then play them back whenever you want, you may actually
have more viewing of favorite shows versus what you have right now which
is most people right now watch their favorite show only once every 2
1/2 or 3 weeks.
If you have a TiVo machine or a Replay machine that can record every
episode of "Saturday Night Live" or "Will and Grace,"
you may watch every episode because you're not just coming to the set
and seeing what's on and clicking around. You're actually -- you're
deciding what you want to watch.
TERENCE SMITH: Right, but you and your programming executives spend
a lot of time worrying about where to place a successful show in the
lineup. I mean, that's part of the art and science here.
GARTH ANCIER: We do right now, yes.
TERENCE SMITH: Does this promise to change all that?
GARTH ANCIER: Well, there's two sides to the programming equation. One
side is, as you say, figuring out what an appropriate time to get the
most people who are passively watching television, to watch a certain
series on a certain night will be.
TERENCE SMITH: Right.
GARTH ANCIER: The other half of it is just making and developing good
programs, and frankly, I think creating good programs is at least as
important, if not more important, in the scheduling of programs.
TERENCE SMITH: I don't doubt that for a second, but I know how much
effort and time and attention network executives put into programming,
and it just seems to me that if this technology became widespread, those
decisions, like a strong lead-in to a new show, would become less relevant.
ANCIER: Well, they will become less relevant. That's true because you'd
be watching individual shows, and then our job will become a little
different. It would be how do we get you to sample a new show we believe
in by promotion within the show that we know you like.
So, if you watch "Frazier" and we think you'll like "Stark
Raving Mad," we'll put promos in there that would say, "Why
don't you click here, and we'll have you record 'Stark Raving Mad.'
Try out that show as well."
TERENCE SMITH: And that technology exists, in fact --
GARTH ANCIER: Yes.
TERENCE SMITH: -- to click on a promo of something you see, and it will
automatically record that show.
GARTH ANCIER: Yes. As of this year, that technology does exist.
TERENCE SMITH: Right.
GARTH ANCIER: That within promos, I think for TiVo, they're encoded
-- it's encoded in such a way that you can just click and it will automatically
record that program for you.
TERENCE SMITH: I think you're right. I think it's TiVo and not Replay,
so far as I know.
GARTH ANCIER: Right.
TERENCE SMITH: The other aspect of this, of course, is that wonderful
little button on the remote that says Quick Skip or something like it
that skips the commercials with the press of a button. What do you think
about that? What's the significance of that?
GARTH ANCIER: Well, that's more troubling. I mean, originally, when
Replay came out, they had a 30-second skip button on their remote control.
TiVo did not, by the way. They just had a fast-forward. You know, you're
never going to be able to avoid someone fast-forwarding through commercials.
They can do that now with videotape, although it's inconvenient. The
fact is that Replay agreed to serve as a concession to the broadcasting
industry to drop the 30-second skip button.
TERENCE SMITH: In their later models?
GARTH ANCIER: In the models that will be hitting the public in March.
So that's a small victory. I think it is a bit troubling that you'll
be able to watch a show and skip over commercials because that's, of
course, the entire revenue stream for broadcast television is commercial,
you know, revenue.
TERENCE SMITH: If commercial watching goes down as a result of technology
GARTH ANCIER: Yeah.
TERENCE SMITH: What does that mean for broadcast television?
ANCIER: I'm not sure. I think it may mean we have to look for an alternate
way of getting that revenue. We may have to move to a different model.
I mean, cable television has a different model. I mean, most cable networks
get the majority of the revenue directly from subscribers, you know
-- maybe you'll have to subscribe to an NBC in the future.
TERENCE SMITH: Pay-per-view?
GARTH ANCIER: Not pay-per-view, but, for example, USA Network may get
50 cents a month on your cable bill that you -- you have full access
to USA Network, but you do pay a price for that access.
TERENCE SMITH: Correct. That might be for an NBC?
GARTH ANCIER: It might be for an NBC. It might be for any of the networks.
You may just say, you know what, I want to watch this type of program,
it's important to me, and I'm willing to pay -- a very small number.
I mean, it would be 50 cents or about that a month, as it is for a cable
network, to watch my favorite shows.
TERENCE SMITH: But, I mean, that would be a huge change. You're talking
GARTH ANCIER: That would be a huge change.
TERENCE SMITH: -- a transition from free over-the-air broadcast television
to some kind of payment system.
GARTH ANCIER: Yeah. Well, right now you are paying when you watch commercials.
I mean, that's how, you know, it works right now. The -- it's not really
free. I mean, you are paying. You are just paying as a transactional
cost to watching these advertisements.
If the ability to -- it happens that you can skip all the commercials
and enough people do skip all the commercials, then I think obviously
all of us in broadcast television will have to find a new way to finance
the kind of high-level, expensive product that we make.
TERENCE SMITH: Mmm-hmm. One suggestion that critics have said is, well,
what they may do, the broadcast networks, is product placement and almost
subliminal ads within the story line of entertainment shows. What do
you think of that?
ANCIER: I actually tend to think that's not a particularly likely scenario.
I know it happens in movies where there's a Coca-Cola can in the scene
or there's a box of Kellogg's Corn Flakes, but I think to pay for an
entire show that way, it would be very difficult to do. Right now, it's
impossible to do because, if you do that in a TV show and the next break
has, you know, a Post cereal in it, you have a direct conflict between
advertisers and product placement, and so it's almost a logistical nightmare
now because, whenever you play a show, the different products will be
in the show and in the commercial pods.
You know, there can be lots of alternate models you'd look at down the
road. I'm just hoping that people don't get to the point where they
skip these commercials en masse.
You know, frankly, I think most advertisers do a very good job of making
commercials entertaining, and they put a lot more money into the commercials
a lot of times than we put into the programs.
TERENCE SMITH: All right. Now, here's a truth-in-advertising question,
Garth. You have these machines at home.
GARTH ANCIER: Yes.
TERENCE SMITH: You presumably record some things. You play them back.
Do you skip the commercials or not?
GARTH ANCIER: I don't skip the commercials, but I do that mostly --
I can't say it's out of any loyalty to the broadcast business. I do
it because I'm lazy, and it gives me a chance to go, you know, do what
everyone else does during commercials which is sometimes they sit and
watch them, sometimes my attention drifts a little bit, sometimes I
go get a soda and whatever.
TERENCE SMITH: See, because that's -- I found -- like you, I've experimented
with these, reviewed copies of this technology, and I found that when
I recorded something and skipped through the commercials on a Replay
and then watched something live, I became very impatient with the commercials.
Suddenly, now I had to watch them. Well, it was annoying.
GARTH ANCIER: I haven't had that experience yet. I hope I don't. I just
hope a lot of people don't.
TERENCE SMITH: I'm just talking about a human reaction.
ANCIER: No, I understand that. Well, certainly, it' s -- when you watch
a comedy or a drama and you realize that there's 42 minutes of program
time in a drama and 21 minutes of program time in a comedy on any network
-- basically, give or take a minute -- obviously that's less of your
time than watching the full 30 minutes with promotional time and station
time and national commercials.
TERENCE SMITH: I do it with a football game. I'll record a football
game and get to it later, and go through those commercials so that I
can get -- let's say it's a dramatic finish. You know, I'm pressing
to get to that finish. Anyway, so it exists there.
Stepping back a little bit from it, you walk around a display like this,
a show like this, and you think about this. When you look at television
five, 10 years down the line, how do you think it will be different?
GARTH ANCIER: Well, I think what I mentioned before, it seems to me
the operative thing to think about if you're programming today, which
is you can't just copy what's on. You have to do unique shows that mean
something to somebody.
So I'd rather take a shot on the next "West Wing" or on the
next unique show or the next "Will and Grace" than do a show
that's a clone of a show that's on another network.
You know, at this convention today, what you're seeing is that we have
12 court shows on the air in the daytime, and a number of the stations
are introducing more court shows. And you go, "Well, that's great,
except I already have 12 shows for court shows. Do I really need 17
choices of court shows?"
think what smart programmers do is try to put on television what's not
there, what's not there today. For example, ABC did a wonderful job
of reviving a forum that was extraordinarily popular in the '50s by
taking "Millionaire," which is a very basic, well-executed
quiz show, and doing it for the modern era. They made the questions
a little more cultural, a little more relevant to a younger generation
of viewers. They made -- it's not a particularly fast show. It's very
dramatic, but it's a forum that existed and people like to play, but
it was not on television and had only been really in access through
"Wheel of Fortune" and "Jeopardy." And they said,
"We think there's an audience for that. We're going to try it out."
TERENCE SMITH: That's in terms of content.
GARTH ANCIER: Content, yeah.