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Screen Edge 2014: Primetime Tales

Filmmakers Brent Hodge and Mark McNeill, NZ On Air’s Glenn Usmar, and LIC Beijing’s Leland Ling and Steven Seidenberg offered their takes on the shifting sands of primetime programming and documentary’s place in the schedule.

“What is prime time?” moderator Alex Lee asked, in a period when people view on demand and on devices other than a television.

Usmar reminded that the vast majority of viewers continued to watch TV programming from the couch at the time it’s broadcast. Therefore the concept of “primetime” remained real, even if viewers might also be accessing other devices at the same time. The challenge, for NZ On Air and broadcasters alike, was that viewers had 100+ channels to choose between. To retain audiences and audience share was difficult if not impossible.

In general, it seemed TV was doing well with the under 10s (who by and large don’t own other devices) and the over 30s … but the 15 – 29 demographic prefers digital content.

Seidenberg noted that in Asia viewing behaviour was also affected by location. In rural China the TV was still a point of focus around which families gathered. In urban environments, there was a shift to more people using a more devices to access content. In Korea, 45% of the country’s population live in Seoul. They’re glued to devices for the four hours they might spend commuting to and from work. Seidenberg’s view was that primetime was less an identified time-slot than the first time people experience the offering.

Ling suggested that documentary film-makers should be less precious about their work and should welcome reversionings for different audiences. For example a Chinese golden monkey documentary was sold to the Japanese broadcaster and they replaced Chinese scientists with Japanese scientists to make the programme more accessible to the audience. In another session Ling acknowledged that his own company, LIC, does exactly the same with some of the product it brings into China.

Practicality was a hallmark of most present. Ling and Seidenberg commented that the way forward, in China, was to make format reality shows that pay the bills, and make it possible to make more creative documentary.

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