Top Takeaways From Variety’s Entertainment Summit at CES 2024 – Variety

By Todd Spangler
NY Digital Editor
The future of media, tech and advertising — both their promise and peril — was the topic of the day at the Variety Entertainment Summit at CES 2024, held during the technology industry’s huge annual confab in Las Vegas.
Speakers at the full-day event included Roku Media president Charlie Collier, Reddit CEO Steve Huffman, Jenefer Brown, Lionsgate’s EVP & head of global products and experiences, John Harrison, EY’s Americas leader for media and entertainment, Tony Isetta, VP and head of content marketing for the NFL, and Harvey Mason Jr., CEO of the Recording Academy.
Spotted among the event’s attendees were Disney Entertainment co-chairs Dana Walden and Alan Bergman among other Mouse Housers, who were there alongside panel speaker Rita Ferro, Disney’s president of global advertising. (Later in the day, Ferro hosted Disney’s tech and data showcase at CES.)

Here are key takeaways from the Variety Entertainment Summit, held Jan. 10 at the Aria Resort and Casino in Las Vegas:
Netflix bulks up ad user base, Amazon Prime Video ads coming: In 2024, streamers are looking to take a bigger bite of the ad pie. Netflix advertising president Amy Reinhard revealed that the company now has more than 23 million monthly active users globally on its ad tier (up from 15 million two months ago). “Scaling our business is absolutely our biggest priority right now, but we want to make sure we’re doing that in a meaningful way for the members,” she said. On a separate panel, Alexys Coronel, head of U.S. entertainment and telecommunications for Amazon Ads, discussed the coming Jan. 29 launch of ads in Prime Video (with an option for members to pay an extra $2.99 monthly fee to exclude ads). Amazon will be able to reach 115 million unique viewers in the U.S. and will provide a path to conversion for product sales on Amazon and on third-party platforms on Day One, Coronel said: “It’s a huge step change for us.”
Roku’s streaming TV ambitions: Collier, the former Fox Entertainment and AMC Networks exec 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 lead-in to most of television, if not all of television,” he said at the event. “And that is an incredibly powerful thing.”
Linear TV ad spending is down, but sports is a bright spot: Variety co-editor-in-chief Cynthia Littleton asked a panel of top ad execs at Disney, NBCUniversal, Warner Bros. Discovery and Netflix: “Where is the money?” To which Marshall, NBCU’s chairman of global advertising and partnerships, quipped: “You sound like my boss.” Disney ad chief Ferro commented, “Where you are absolutely seeing compression of [ad] pricing and demand is linear TV.” But, she said, given Disney’s digital platforms including Disney+, ESPN+ and Hulu, “At scale we are able to move dollars to the platforms that matter.” And she added that within linear TV advertising “there are pockets where the money has flowed” — calling out sports in particular.

TalkShopLive leans into 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 brand-content division explode over the last year as retailers are looking 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 — to retail partners including Walmart, Target, Best Buy and Bass Pro Shops. Retailers are now creating their own shoppable entertainment series, Moore said: “We have a firm belief that the future of retail is media.”
Disney, Universal bullish on Apple’s Vision Pro: The team led by Jason Wong, SVP of product for Disney Entertainment and ESPN Technology, is busy gearing up for the March release of the full integration of Hulu with Disney+. And they’re in the final stages of getting ready for the Feb. 2 drop of the Apple Vision Pro mixed-reality headset, for which Disney+ will be a launch partner with multiple 3D-immersive titles exclusively on the new Apple device. Alluding to Star Wars and Marvel movies that will be available, he said, “You’ll be watching a movie from the landspeeder on Tatooine… And it’s a way of bringing that immersion up and before the movie actually starts… I think it’s going to wow a lot of people,” Wong said. Greg Reed, head of technology innovation and partnerships at Universal Pictures, credits Apple with reinvigorating the VR/AR category, which has been somewhat “dormant” for several years. Apple’s advantage, he added, is its “vibrant application ecosystem” and family of interoperable devices.
AI’s threat and opportunity: Artificial intelligence continues to be seen as a two-headed beast — promising a bounty of new creative tools and ways to optimize business operations while also opening up a can of potential threats (including the elimination of jobs). The use of AI by studios was a hot-button issue for striking Hollywood unions, and the Biden administration recently announced plans to regulate AI. On a panel of AI experts, Ovetta Sampson, Google’s head of user experience for core machine learning, said, “This is about humanity’s use of these tools. This is not just about businesses and corporations. It’s about us, and how we treat each other as human beings in using these tools to either democratize or weaponize.” Hanno Basse, CTO of visual-effects company Digital Domain, expressed worry about the advent of AI-generated human replicas that are indistinguishable from real humans. “We’re going to see believable virtual humans that you can interact with — as if you’re interacting with a real person — within the next couple of years. And what that means for society is something I’m worried about,” 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 big platform TV and movie sampling: Catherine Halaby, head of entertainment at TikTok, said the video-entertainment app is continually seeking out new ways to interact with users together with content partners. A trend that popped in 2023: Media brands including Paramount, Netflix and Peacock released content on TikTok chopped up into bite-size segments (in some cases uploading full movies or shows). “What happened was, Netflix and Paramount saw users uploading clips [of their content] on TikTok and saw viewing of those titles increase on their platforms,” Halaby said. “And they said, ‘Hey, we should do that.’” In a similar vein, HBO released 25-second recaps for every episode of “The Sopranos” on TikTok as part of celebrating the groundbreaking series’ 25th anniversary. “What our media partners help us do is diversify our content,” Halaby said. “At one time, 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, open internet, but what we’ve seen is that when our partners lean in and manage their media more holistically, they see tremendous gains in their ability to cut waste, invest more in performant media and ad reach and that they know where their [ad] placements are showing up.”
Pictured above (l. to r.): Disney’s Rita Ferro, Warner Bros. Discovery’s Jon Steinlauf, Netflix’s Amy Reinhard and NBCUniversal’s Mark Marshall on a panel at the Variety Entertainment Summit at CES 2024
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