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Changing TV habits center stage at digital media presentation

April 24, 2012 | 12:44 pm

Lloyd Braun

NEW YORK -- The prime-time television ratings drop took center stage at the Digital Content NewFront presentations in New York, with former ABC Entertainment Chairman Lloyd Braun seizing on the numbers as an opportunity to talk about changing viewing habits -- and the rise of digital media.

In an onstage conversation with MediaLink Chairman and digital guru Michael E. Kassan, introductions had barely been concluded before the topic was broached: The four broadcast networks have lost viewers in recent weeks. And, unlike in years past, audiences aren't gravitating to the cable networks.

Braun, who joined the world of digital media after being forced out in 2004 as the top programming executive at ABC, referred to a trend reported in the New York Times as evidence that viewers are moving away from watching television shows live, when they initially air. Viewers increasingly are using online services, such as Netflix Inc., to get caught up on past seasons of award-winning shows, such as the PBS series "Downton Abbey" or AMC's "Mad Men," and watch current episodes through digital on-demand offerings, he said.

"There is no reason anymore -- for most of this kind of programming -- to watch it live," Braun told a group of advertising buyers attending Microsoft Corp.'s digital advertising presentation Tuesday. 

The trend has been on the horizon for years, Braun noted, adding with obvious frustration that advertisers continue to pay higher rates to air commercials during prime-time TV, despite the gradual erosion of the audience. He said he expects the trend to continue, as buyers attend next month's presentations by the major networks of new fall shows and commit billions of advertising dollars for the upcoming season.

This year's ad sales season, known as the upfront market, is expected to raise nearly $9.2 billion in commitments from advertisers.

"What I think has been driving people crazy on the digital side, we've all seen these charts which show time spent on the Internet versus where the [ad] spend is going," said Braun, co-founder of BermanBraun, an independent media company that develops television, feature film and digital programs. "There's this huge gap where the audience is spending time online and with tablets and smartphones, and the ad dollars are not commensurate with that."

The desire to grab advertisers' attention -- and dollars -- is behind the Digital Content NewFronts, during which five major online distributors will highlight their new shows for buyers.

Microsoft brought out some star power -- including U.S. Olympic gymnast and gold medalist Dominique Dawes, now a Fox Sports analyst, actress Felicia Day of "The Guild" and Kate Snow, NBC News correspondent with "Rock Center With Brian Williams" -- to promote the content available through its MSN portal and through the Xbox Live service offered via its game console.

Ross Honey, Xbox Live general manager of entertainment and advertising, sought to portray the Xbox 360 as a broad-based home entertainment device that offers more than video game play. It has struck some 50 content deals in recent months, including agreements with cable giant Comcast Corp. and Time Warner Inc.'s premium cable network, HBO, that offer subscribers access to TV shows via the game console.

The Xbox Live service has grown 30% in the last year to 40 million members, Honey said. Indeed, Xbox 360 consoles outsold other individual devices that connect the TV to the Internet, including Blu-ray disc players.

Entertainment usage on the Xbox Live has more than doubled, year over year, Honey said.

"In the U.S., entertainment usage has surpassed multiplayer gaming on Xbox Live," Honey said, referring to the video game industry term for players who connect via the Internet to oppose one another. "That's a profound event. When Xbox Live started 10 years ago, what it was all about was mutliplayer gaming. Now, Xbox Live really is an all-in-one entertainment platform."


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-- Dawn C. Chmielewski

Photo:  Lloyd Braun. Credit: Yahoo