After 17 days, the Television Critics Association’s summer press tour has come to a close. During the past two-and-a-half weeks, several dozen broadcast, cable and streaming outlets shared their programming plans for this fall.
The semi-annual TCA press tour always offers an illuminating glimpse at the current state of the TV industry. And while the networks addressed many of our biggest questions going into press tour, their presentations had a more concentrated focus than usual: several of the biggest outlets took shots at Netflix and made the case for why they are a better option than the streaming behemoth.
Technically, only a few of them directly called out Netflix, with several others more generally referencing “others” or “competitors,” but to writers and critics in the Beverly Hilton ballroom, there was no doubt about which outlet they were targeting. That was due not only to Netflix’s position as the TV industry’s biggest disruptor of the past few years, but also because they are ready to pounce now that Netflix’s U.S. subscribers fell slightly last quarter for the first time ever.
ABC Entertainment president Karey Burke led the charge, telling reporters, “We believe we offer creators a superior platform: big, broad audiences, all year long.”
And many other execs echoed those comments. But because it skipped press tour this time around, Netflix was unable to return fire.
Here are the top 7 ways that networks positioned themselves at summer press tour as being better than Netflix:
When it comes to content, less is more
Networks said that Netflix’s massive volume of original content and its attempt to be all things to all people prevents the company from giving shows the attention and care they need.
“We’re not in the volume business; we’re in the curated business of bringing individual shows to our global, diverse audience that they will love and they will come to count on,” said Amazon Studios head Jennifer Salke.
Sarah Barnett, president of entertainment networks for AMC Networks, added, “We don’t make shows on an industrial scale. We’re not in the ‘all things for all people’ business.” Instead, her networks are “four tight brands that have a sure sense of who they are, who they’re for and what content works.”
Those networks that have increased their content output this year—including Showtime, HBO and FX—insist that unlike Netflix, they haven’t sacrificed quality for quantity.
“There’s not one show we have aired that I wouldn’t have aired two years ago,” said HBO programming president Casey Bloys. Even as Showtime bulks up, “we still will be a small, boutique operation, and we’re never going to change that,” said president of entertainment Gary Levine.
FX Networks chairman John Landgraf said that as its output expands, every single FX original “has been put through the FX curatorial filter because we believe that the filter of a brand will become even more valuable to consumers as they struggle to navigate the deluge of program offerings in the peak TV era.”
As Starz COO Jeffrey Hirsch put it: “I think Netflix has done a phenomenal job of convincing … everyone on Wall Street that unless you spend $13 billion [on content], you can’t compete and you should take your ball and go home.” But “we have a very unique programming strategy that no one else is focused on right now,” as the premium cable network shared its new focus on a global “premium female audience.”
With Netflix’s immense output, the streaming service can’t give every show the marketing push it needs to thrive, causing several Netflix shows to be canceled before many subscribers even knew they existed.
“Most shows on competing platforms these days, sometimes they get a billboard on Sunset [Boulevard], and sometimes they disappear into the sunset,” said ABC’s Burke, who promises creators that their series “will get marketed. We invest heavily in making people aware of our shows.”
At Showtime, said Levine, “we don’t just dump a series, send an email and hope it connects.”
Bigger ratings and reach
Netflix has begun selectively sharing data that indicates some of its most popular shows reach in excess of 30 or 40 million subscribers in its first month. But Burke cited Nielsen data from its SVOD Content Ratings that claims 85% of streaming shows perform below a 0.1 rating in the adults 18–49 demo, “which is to say they really don’t perform at all,” she said.
In contrast, “we get the biggest audiences” on broadcast, said Thom Sherman, senior evp, programming, CBS Entertainment.
CBS said it reached around 240 million viewers last year, while according to Burke, ABC reaches 150 million people each month, which she said leads to an interesting phenomenon: “Competing streamers want to advertise on our air; we just won’t let them.”
Weekly engagement over several years
Viewers might enjoy binge-watching on Netflix, but when full seasons are dropped at once, they often exit the zeitgeist just days later. “The conversation is very brief, and then people move on to other things,” said Sherman.
On broadcast, however, “there is an excitement to what we offer to terms of being on every week. A lot of producers like that,” said CBS Entertainment president Kelly Kahl.
Producers also like making shows that run for several years, which has become tougher as streaming services like Netflix have begun pulling the plug on shows after just two or three seasons. Burke blasted streamers “who tout shows as hits one day and cancel them the next, usually around Season 3.”
ABC’s pitch to creators was: “If you care about telling stories that appeal to lots of people and have the capacity to endure over time and be watched by generations, ABC is where you have the best chance of doing that,” said Burke.
Three for the price of one
Netflix’s most popular subscription plan, which allows high-definition streaming on up to two screens simultaneously, now costs $12.99 per month. That’s the same amount that Disney will begin offering in November, which includes all three of its OTT services: Hulu’s limited ads tier, ESPN+ and the upcoming Disney+.
“That’s an incredible value, and it’s an incredible amount of quality and content when you put it all together,” said Landgraf, whose content will be more regularly making its way to Hulu under its new parent Disney.
Expanding library content
Netflix will be losing popular library titles The Office and Friends over the next year, as NBCUniversal and WarnerMedia snapped them up, respectively, for their own streaming services. Meanwhile, Hulu—which svp of originals Craig Erwich noted already has “the largest library of iconic shows and films”—is continuing to expand its own stable of popular library series. The streaming service, for instance, picked up all seven seasons of ’80s CBS sitcom Designing Women, which starred Dixie Carter, Delta Burke, Jean Smart and Annie Potts.
More original shows from Netflix’s top creators
Netflix has signed creators like Ryan Murphy, Shonda Rhimes and Kenya Barris to lucrative nine-figure deals, but those haven’t yet yielded a single new series in the streaming service. But FX and ABC played up the new and ongoing shows they have from that trio.
FX made a big splash by revealing that the third season of Ryan’s American Crime Story series will focus on the national scandal involving Monica Lewinsky and President Clinton that led to the country’s first impeachment proceedings in more than a century. The network also paneled another of Murphy’s other critically-acclaimed shows, Pose.
One of ABC’s biggest freshman series is Mixed-ish, a Black-ish spinoff co-created by Barris. And Burke reiterated that she’s interested in airing Rhimes’ drama Grey’s Anatomy, starting Season 16 next month, “for as long as they’ll continue to make those episodes.”