ABC feeling economic, digital pressures

LOS ANGELES Fri Jan 16, 2009 4:58pm EST

Actresses Dana Delany, Marcia Cross and Teri Hatcher (L-R) of ''Desperate Housewives'' present an award at the 60th annual Primetime Emmy Awards in Los Angeles September 21, 2008. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

Actresses Dana Delany, Marcia Cross and Teri Hatcher (L-R) of ''Desperate Housewives'' present an award at the 60th annual Primetime Emmy Awards in Los Angeles September 21, 2008.

Credit: Reuters/Lucy Nicholson

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Even with hit shows such as "Desperate Housewives" and "Grey's Anatomy," ABC is tightening its belt as it weathers the U.S. economic downturn and tries to remain relevant in an industry challenged by digital entertainment.

"We are in one of worst economies in 70 years. We are looking at everything we can possibly do to be more efficient and more effective," ABC Entertainment president Steve McPherson told reporters on Friday.

"We have to look at everything across the board from cost cutting to (using) other platforms for smart ways to broker our efforts. It is an ongoing process. It is not a one time thing."

McPherson, attending the networks' semi-annual presentation to critics, said last year's five month strike by Hollywood screenwriters had "really hurt everybody" in the traditional television industry, and he acknowledged the networks had lost viewers to other forms of entertainment.

"The world has shifted under these businesses and we need to be incredibly diligent and bold in what we do, otherwise we will be left by the wayside." he said. "Tomorrow is here, now, and we really need to figure it out now and move forward."

ABC, a unit of Walt Disney Co, has lost about 9.7 percent of its prime time audience in the 2008-9 season compared with the same stage last year.

With the exception of current ratings leader CBS, the other two major U.S. networks Fox and NBC have also lost similar percentages since the 2008-9 season started last September.

McPherson said he hoped ABC would continue to "take chances" on shows such as "Lost" and "Dancing with the Stars" that were seen as daring when they premiered. But recent new entries, such as "Pushing Daisies," "Eli Stone" and "Dirty Sexy Money," failed to resonate with viewers and were canceled.

Despite the growing trend of watching television on iPods, on the Internet and on mobile phones, McPherson said ABC's main focus remained on broadcast.

"We are still a broadcast network and that is where our revenues come from. The other platforms are important. But people ask would we do a show that would be successful on the Internet as opposed to on broadcast? ... and those are always secondary thoughts," he added.

(Editing by Dean Goodman and Andre Grenon)

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