Key takeaways from Variety’s Entertainment Summit at CES 2024

The future of media, technology and advertising (both its promises and its dangers) was the topic of the day at the Variety Entertainment Summit at CES 2024, held during the technology industry’s largest annual conference in Las Vegas.

Speakers at the full-day event included Roku Media President Charlie Collier, Reddit CEO Steve Huffman, Lionsgate EVP and Head of Global Products and Experiences Jenefer Brown, Media Leader John Harrison and EY Entertainment in America, Tony Isetta, vice president and director of content marketing for the NFL, and Harvey Mason Jr., CEO of the Recording Academy.

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Among those attending the event were Disney Entertainment co-chairmen Dana Walden and Alan Bergman, among other Mouse Housers, who were there along with panel speaker Rita Ferro, president of global advertising for Disney. (Later that same day, Ferro hosted Disney’s data and technology showcase at CES.)

Below are key takeaways from the Variety Entertainment Summit, held January 10 at the Aria Resort and Casino in Las Vegas:

Netflix increases its ad user base and Amazon Prime Video ads arrive: In 2024, streamers will look to take a bigger share of the advertising pie. Netflix advertising president Amy Reinhard revealed that the company now has more than 23 million monthly active users worldwide on its advertising tier (up from 15 million two months ago). “Expanding our business is absolutely our highest priority right now, but we want to make sure we do it in a way that is meaningful to members,” she said. In a separate panel, Alexys Coronel, head of entertainment and telecommunications at Amazon Ads in the US, discussed the upcoming launch of ads on Prime Video on January 29 (with an option for members to pay an additional $2 monthly fee .99 to exclude ads). Amazon will be able to reach 115 million unique viewers in the US and will provide a path to conversion for selling products on Amazon and third-party platforms from day one, Coronel said: “It’s a big change for us” .

Roku’s TV streaming ambitions: Collier, a former Fox Entertainment and AMC Networks executive who joined Roku in 2022, touted the streaming platform’s narrative that TV viewing is inevitably migrating to Internet distribution. “We’re going to be the forerunners of most, if not all, television,” he said at the event. “And that’s an incredibly powerful thing.”

Investment in linear advertising on television has decreased, but sports are a bright spot: Variety Co-Editor-in-Chief Cynthia Littleton asked a panel of top advertising executives from Disney, NBCUniversal, Warner Bros. Discovery and Netflix: “Where’s the money?” To which Marshall, NBCU’s president of global advertising and partnerships, quipped, “You sound like my boss.” Disney’s advertising chief, Ferro, commented: “Where you absolutely see the compression of [ad] “Price and demand is linear television.” But, he said, given Disney’s digital platforms, including Disney+, ESPN+ and Hulu, “at scale we can move dollars to the platforms that matter.” And he added that within linear television advertising “there are areas where money has flowed,” highlighting sports in particular.

TalkShopLive leans towards branded series: Video commerce and retail media enablement platform TalkShopLive, whose commerce-enabled video player is distributed across the web and social media, has seen its branded content division explode over the past year as retailers look to break through as content providers, co-founder. and CEO Bryan Moore said. Using its first-party data, the company can help determine the most successful video commerce experience, both live and on-demand, for retail partners such as Walmart, Target, Best Buy and Bass Pro Shops. Retailers are now creating their own shoppable entertainment series, Moore said: “We firmly believe that the future of retail is media.”

Disney and Universal are optimistic about Apple’s Vision Pro: The team led by Jason Wong, senior vice president of product for Disney Entertainment and ESPN Technology, is busy preparing for the March launch of Hulu’s full integration with Disney+. And they are in the final stages of preparation for the February 2 launch of the Apple Vision Pro mixed reality headset, for which Disney+ will be a launch partner with multiple immersive 3D titles exclusively on the new Apple device. Alluding to the Star Wars and Marvel movies that will be available, he said: “You’ll watch a movie from the landspeeder on Tatooine… And it’s a way to increase that immersion before the movie actually starts… I think it’s going a Surprise a lot of people,” Wong said. Greg Reed, head of technology innovation and partnerships at Universal Pictures, credits Apple for revitalizing the VR/AR category, which has been somewhat “dormant” for several years. The advantage of Apple, he added, is its “vibrant ecosystem of applications” and its family of interoperable devices.

The threat and opportunity of AI: Artificial intelligence continues to be seen as a two-headed beast: it promises a host of creative new tools and ways to optimize business operations, while opening a can of potential threats (including eliminating jobs). Studio use of AI was a hot topic for striking Hollywood unions, and the Biden administration recently announced plans to regulate AI. At a panel of AI experts, Ovetta Sampson, Google’s head of user experience for core machine learning, said: “It’s about humanity’s use of these tools. It’s not just about companies and corporations. “It’s about us and how we treat each other as human beings using these tools to democratize or weaponize.” Hanno Basse, chief technology officer at visual effects company Digital Domain, expressed concern about the arrival of AI-generated human replicas that are indistinguishable from real humans. “In the coming years we will see credible virtual humans that you can interact with, as if you were interacting with a real person. And what that means for society is something that worries me,” Basse said. Citing Samspon’s comments, he added: “It’s up to all of us to figure out how to use it responsibly.”

TikTok has become a great film and television sampling platform: Catherine Halaby, head of entertainment at TikTok, said the video entertainment app is continually looking for new ways to engage with users alongside content partners. A trend that emerged in 2023: media brands such as Paramount, Netflix and Peacock published content on TikTok divided into small segments (in some cases uploading entire movies or shows). “What happened was that Netflix and Paramount saw users uploading clips [of their content] on TikTok and we saw viewing of those titles on their platforms increase,” Halaby said. “And they said, ‘Hey, we should do that.’” Similarly, HBO released 25-second recaps of each episode of “The Sopranos” on TikTok as part of the groundbreaking series’ 25th anniversary celebration. “What our media partners help us do is diversify our content,” Halaby said. “There was a time when people thought TikTok was a dance app. “I don’t hear that anymore.”

Is audience fragmentation friend or foe?: Jed Dederick, chief client officer at demand-side advertising provider The Trade Desk, acknowledged the complex challenge of reaching viewers given the massive proliferation of digital platforms. But he said it was key for marketers and media companies to embrace the chaos. “Fragmentation is our friend,” Dederick said. “We love a democratized, fragmented, vibrant and open Internet, but what we’ve seen is that when our partners lean in and manage their media more holistically, they see huge gains in their ability to reduce waste, invest more in media high performance and reach of the ad and that they know where it is [ad] Locations are popping up.”

Pictured above (left to right): Disney’s Rita Ferro, Warner Bros. Discovery’s Jon Steinlauf, Netflix’s Amy Reinhard and NBCUniversal’s Mark Marshall at a panel at the Variety Entertainment Summit at CES 2024

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