Digital Video: From Creation to Fragmentation, Industry Execs Weigh In

Traditional media firms aren’t oblivious to how online and mobile video is changing consumer behavior and upending their industry. But their prescriptions for dealing with the challenge can be very different from those of industry disruptors such as Google, Facebook (FB) , Amazon and Netflix.

That’s one takeaway from a pair of far-reaching CES talks featuring several senior media and ad execs, held at the tech conference Wednesday in Las Vegas. The panel list included YouTube chief business officer Robert Kyncl, A+E Networks CEO Nancy Dubuc, Comcast (CMCSA) ad chief Marcien Jenckes and Discovery Communications (DISCA) CEO David Zaslav, along with a few others.

Changing video-watching habits was a subject on everyone’s mind. Zaslav, whose firm owns quite a few cable networks and will own even more once Discovery’s $14.6 billion deal to buy Scripps Networks goes through, argues Discovery’s large stable of non-fiction content properties catering to “superfans” in various niches (cooking, cars, science, etc.) will help it stand out.

But he’s up for finding new ways to both create and distribute such content. In addition to launching direct-to-consumer offerings a la Disney, Zaslav raised the idea of video integrated with voice-assistant platforms. One scenario he described that’s bound to make Jeff Bezos smile: A cooking-show fan using’s (AMZN) Alexa to pull up content related to a desired food item in the kitchen, and then using Alexa to ask Whole Foods to deliver it.

New online sports offerings are also part of Discovery’s strategy. But not in the U.S., a sports market Zaslav considers over-played. But rather in Europe, where Discovery’s Eurosport network gives it huge reach. Zaslav wants Eurosport to create online subscription services catering to superfans of particular sports, rather than trying to be everything to everyone. “In Europe, we have a sports Netflix,” he claimed.

On the other hand, in a statement that Netflix (NFLX) CEO Reed Hastings might quibble with, Zaslav insisted the ability of TV shows to deliver a “shared cultural experience” by being viewed at the same time by millions of viewers — viewers who might then go on social media to discuss the show, or talk about it with co-workers the next day — still has value.

Along a similar vein, Zaslav argued the growing fragmentation of video content is a problem that needs addressing. “Basic cable works because everyone has their favorite 6 or 8 channels … for everyone in the household, it’s something else,” he said, while adding Discovery is trying to deal with the problem by curating content around brands and interests.

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