HRTS: Cable Chiefs -- Brand Identity Fuels Cable Network Success
A+E Networks' Dubuc, HBO's Lombardo and Turner's Koonin say quality content, accessibility edging out broadcast nets
By Lindsay Rubino -- Broadcasting & Cable, 2/27/2013 7:18:15 PM
It is especially true for the trio of cable programming executives on the panel at the Hollywood Radio & Television Society's "Cable Chiefs" Newsmaker Luncheon Wednesday at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills, Calif. The panel was moderated by Electus chairman Ben Silverman, who called the panelists "multichannel heads," given their oversight of not one, but many, cable channels.
Nancy Dubuc, president of entertainment and media at A+E Networks, who has oversight of A&E, Lifetime and History, said that each of the cable networks have their "own brand fulfillment. It's our job to not only manage that, but evolve that. I think we've done that at A&E Networks, of evolving these brands while staying true to what they stand for."
Such is the case with Hatfields & McCoys, which Dubuc mentioned throughout the panel as having solidified cable's place alongside broadcast, with its record numbers when it premiered. The miniseries was History's first foray into scripted programming and drew a larger audience than the broadcast networks for the week it aired.
But History, with its self-explanatory name, has less of an effort to make when establishing its brand identity, and therefore a greater advantage when marketing to its audience. Turner Entertainment Networks president Steve Koonin-with oversight of TBS, TNT, TCM and truTV-says that having an "alphabet soup" network name puts them at a disadvantage.
"When you manage a brand, you have to define who you are and consistently deliver against that," Koonin said. "It is vitally important as the business gets more fractured, that consumers have that navigation."
The fracturing business environment has been top of mind for content creators, networks and distributors, especially with a greater push towards TV Everywhere. HBO is a standout example of the power of TV Everywhere with its highly popular HBO Go app, which allows subscribers to view the network's content on multiple devices.
Michael Lombardo, president of programming at HBO, still attests that appointment viewing is the way to better reach an audience. So-called "binge-viewing" (as made popular by the all-at-once release of Netflix's House of Cards), he said, may not be "the best way to keep a viewer engaged emotionally.
"For us, the best of both worlds is to have both the on demand and Go experience," Lombardo said. "But...our hope is that Game of Thrones becomes a Sunday night experience."
The executives all agreed that the way to reach those audiences is via quality content. With cable racking up Emmys, Golden Globes and SAG awards as well as viewers, the pressure is on to create better content to compete with the likes of ratings-drawing The Walking Dead or the acclaimed Homeland on their respective cable rivals.
Without broadcast network oversight, the cable networks have more opportunity to focus on creating rather than pleasing advertisers-and content is what has fueled the rise of cable, according to Koonin.
"You can work in broadcast and you can make a lot of money, or you can work with cable and you can have your vision," Koonin summed up. "We value content."
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