TheGrill 2016: Bundling Is Going Nowhere, TV Execs Say

“It’s an interesting thing to not have $6 billion to spend on programming,” BBC America’s Sarah Barnett quips about competing with Netflix

The TV landscape may be changing, but bundling is not going anywhere, three top television executives agreed.

Appearing on a panel Tuesday at the 2016 edition of TheGrill, TheWrap’s annual entertainment and media conference at the Montage Beverly Hills, FX boss John Landgraf, BBC America president Sarah Barnett and Showtime CEO David Nevins discussed the changing landscape of their businesses and whether TV could be heading toward a purely a la carte model, wherein consumers buy channels and content individually rather than through cable-company bundles.

Nevins was the first to disagree with that notion.

“People want the breadth of programming,” Nevins told TheWrap’s TV Editor Scott Collins. “A lot of the same people who want ‘Ray Donovan’ also want a show that John gives them, also want a show that Sarah gives them. I think the vast majority of bundling is useful to consumers. They don’t want what they don’t want, but they also don’t want only a very narrow slice of the pie.”

“We’re in this fascinating place, we really don’t know how the organization of TV is going to shake out over the next few years,” said Barnett. “I think a la carte seems unlikely.”

Landgraf, who famously coined the term “Peak TV” about the overflowing amount of content available across TV platforms right now, also sees relative stability in terms of distribution models in the near future.

He cited a mere two percent decline in big-bundle subscriptions year over year and the fact that the big-bundle model caters to the needs of families and larger groups of people.

“What you see is a relative state of stasis,” he said. “It could change, but it’s not surprising to me, having seen the research on who the actual people are who aren’t bundling. It’s pretty logical, it’s kind of who you think it is.”

The panel also took a subtle dig at Netflix, especially Ted Sarandos’ revelation that the company would be spending $6 billion on content this year.

“It’s an interesting thing to not have $6 billion to spend on programming in a year, or anything close to that,” Barnett quipped, praising her sister network SundanceTV’s “Rectify” as an example of a smart choice, and touting her network’s “Orphan Black” and the upcoming “Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency.”

“It’s about developing [material], who’s talented and where to place the right bets, and not having an infinite sum of money makes you place better bets,” agreed Nevins. “If you spend enough money, you’re going to hit something good once in a while. But also you get paid for batting average.”

Landgraf also disagreed with Netflix’s model of ordering projects straight to series, eschewing the traditional TV development process.

“For me personally, I’m just not very interested in buying a show the way a movie is bought: The entire package is put together and you’re simply the pipeline that buys it and distributes it,” he said. “I’m more interested in having a dialogue with the people who are making [the show]. But I think, for the most part, that wages have gone up for directors, writers, actors — that’s a good thing.”