NATPE recently hosted “Streaming Plus” a first-of-its-kind summit for the Los Angeles-based non-profit TV trade organization, during which leading executives from CBS, YouTube, The CW, and Netflix gathered to review streaming’s position in the programming and distribution industry’s future.

The summit, which took place at the W Hollywood Hotel at the end of July, kicked off with the phrase: “There’s only one thing you can’t stream — and that’s networking.”

The one-day exchange could be summed up with one word: fun! But it did feel as though the event was trying to leverage the “hip” factor since many attendees talked about marketing to millennials, which is presumably their target audience.

Nonetheless, the one-day event was attended by a good blend of everyone from late twenty-somethings to TV veterans. Some Viacom execs were in town from New York City, but most were Los Angeles locals.

During lunch, the buzz seemed to indicate that people were happy with how “Streaming Plus” was going, with comments like: “This is going well,” “good turnout,” and “great speakers.” Others were disappointed that those speakers didn’t divulge juicier information. And some were simply looking for the first opportunity to duck out and leave. Apparently, no one could really put their finger on why they felt the way they felt, though.

The event began with NATPE’s president and CEO, JP Bommel, presenting opening remarks alongside dotstudioPRO’s Phoenix Gonzalez and RevThink’s Tim Thompson. Most of the day’s speakers concentrated on how their companies have expanded from the linear world to the digital world, from mainstream TV to Roku, Fire, iOS, and beyond. Talks with Rick Haskins of The CW TV network and Jeff Shultz of Viacom’s Pluto TV concentrated more on the business side of things.

Haskins, who serves as the network’s executive vice president of Marketing and Digital Programs, wasn’t afraid to comment on some of the mistakes that were made early on with The CW’s digital expansion. He recounted the transition with the popular drama series Gossip Girl, which was originally broadcast on linear TV in 2008, then switched to digital in 2009, resulting in higher viewership numbers. When The CW then pulled the series back to linear TV, the numbers fell. None of these errors cost them a great deal of time, money, or resources, but he laughed about how lessons are learned very quickly in the digital age. Part of that led to the development of The CW’s relationship with Netflix, which launched The CW series Riverdale, then moved its new episodes to the linear channel. In partnership with People magazine, the network has also launched the digital service CW Seed, which simulcasts its linear content.

The presentation by Shultz, EVP and chief business officer for Pluto TV, got the audience’s attention even though a quick poll demonstrated that only about half of the keynote’s attendees had heard about his free, ad-supported streaming service. The Internet-based TV platform didn’t have to move to digital after linear success, like many of the other attendees were forced to do, but Shultz said he was confident that with its strategy, Pluto TV is in it to win it with a leg up on other free TV apps out there.

The company, which was acquired by Viacom earlier this year, started with more funding than most, allowing the firm access to more quality content and catapulting it to success. Part of its draw is its ability to lure in audiences that are increasingly difficult to reach. With 16 million active monthly users, the streaming service is available on 14 platforms. Recently, Pluto TV has secured third-party partnerships with BBC Studios and CNN. The six-year-old company is planning its appeal to U.S. Hispanic audiences later this year with Pluto TV Latino, and is scheduling a Latin American expansion in early 2020.

The talks given by Netflix’s Amy Reinhard and CBS All Access’s Julie McNamara were different. Both were interviewed about items on their resumes or basic company stats that could easily be found with a simple Google search. However, these keynotes felt much more casual and personal than those with Haskins and Shultz, which were more business-driven.

Each was still enjoyable in its own way, though. During McNamara’s fireside chat, she shared trailers for the upcoming Star Trek series, as well as the dark comedy series Why Women Kill, and discussed how CBS All Access is able to push the envelope further in terms of new content. CBS was the first to release a direct-to-consumer service back in 2014, and gave subscribers edgier premium content to justify the subscription cost. The CBS streaming service is growing steadily toward the future, at a pace of three-to-four new series a year. It’s a balance between quality over quantity, as well as concentrating on both internal assets and new content. This will help the network stay relevant, she said. But, as McNamara intimated, ultimately, it’s the consumer who will let them know what they want to see.

Other interesting segments included the “Monetization of Streaming” panel, which discussed how business and revenue models continue to be disrupted, with executives from First Media and ABC News, and the “Streaming Executives Leadership Forum,” which showcased speakers from Roku, Starz, and, among others.

(By Lauren Spartano)

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