SXSW Recap

A media crossroads: NBCU's Lauren Zalaznick talks content creation in the digital era

Media crossroads: Content creation in the digital era

Lauren Zalaznick
Lauren Zalaznick spoke about the media crossroads at SXSW. Photo courtesy of Comcast

Lauren Zalaznick is a multi-talented media maven — she produced Zoolander, she's a former leader of the Bravo TV network and a past Ted speaker, to name a few. Recently promoted to executive vice president of NBCU, Zalaznick is moving from what she describes as the “traditional media maven’s office” into the “new-fangled” corporate floor of 30 Rockefeller Plaza.

While she might be at a crossroads of her “creative to corporate” career, Zalaznick sat down for a one-on-one with Quincy Smith (Code Advisors) at SXSW to talk about the larger crossroads of media. In what turned out to be quite the intimate panel at the Long Center, Zalaznick spoke candidly about the future of content, the “golden age” of TV, and the idea of “good enough” programming.

Program for beyond the TV

Zalaznick has a saying that she doesn’t program for the TV anymore than she does for cell phones. “As a content creator headed from the present into the future, to say you’re only programming for television is no longer relevant,” she said. What may initially be viewed on a flatscreen will also be viewed on alternative devices or platform — whether that’s a phone or Hulu. “That television screen is going to be shrunken, it’s going to be moved.”

A golden age of television

Is this the golden age of television? Every era wants to position itself as the “golden era,” Zalaznick remarked. But, in this era, there’s a very high quality of programming, which is appreciated as it’s watched. This “qualifies as ‘golden age,’” to Zalaznick. In addition, more people really are watching TV than ever before — whether it's a network programming, a one-off sports broadcast, or something on Netflix.

“Good enough” content is "great" for its audience

“'Good enough’ content sort of disrespects the audience,” Zalaznick said of the notion that some "non-linear" programming is "low-brow." “It’s great for them [the audience].” Zalaznick pointed to the birth of music videos, which grew into cable television — it was “good enough” content for the audience at hand, a new segment of viewers that has since grown into a huge population. In particular, Zalaznick pays close attention to the content found in non-linear environments (YouTube, etc.), which indicate a direction of content creation for new audiences.

Reality TV is about characters that "exist in real life"

Zalaznick sums up the question of authenticity of reality television with this: “For reality [TV], it’s about characters that exist in real life that need to be brought to the screen.” Audiences can tell real voracity, even if it’s not seen as totally authentic. But one conundrum that those in the industry must understand, Zalaznick said, is that “audiences can see constructed drama, and just may not care.”

We're at the dawn of a new age of data

Using data as a means to green-light programming is “as old as the focus group,” Zalaznick said. It’s the “why” from the focus group that’s always been important. Big data, she continued, is more about the behaviors that can affect advertising, technology and platforms. “We’re just coming into the dawn of a new age around data,” one that will allow corporations to give more back to consumers, whether that’s in product placement or targeted advertising.  

Second screens can drive live viewing

On the content level, Zalaznick is not concerned with audiences having another place to watch TV. “What’s more interesting is that an extraordinary number of people — the most conservative guess is well over 50 percent of people,” she said, “have another screen in their hand” when they’re watching a program. The trick is providing the “right” set of information to viewers on the second screen (phone, iPad, computer).

She cited the gamification of content (such as Bravo’s Play Live game) to drive live viewing and engagement. The next wave of information on the second screen, Zalaznick said, will likely loop back to ecommerce and immediate gratification.