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Dont underestimate this underdog

6/04/2000 08:00:00 PM Eastern

Joe Scotti relishes being an underdog and has made quite a career out of it in the television industry.

As president of domestic distribution and marketing, he currently oversees first-run syndication, cable and satellite efforts at Pearson Television North America, which produces and distributes Baywatch Hawaii, Family Feud, The Price Is Right and a handful of other television shows in the U.S.

During 20 years in television, Scotti has worked in local and national cable sales, managed pay-TV deals, and worked in marketing and sales in first-run syndication. "I've always been in the business of trench marketing, and I've been in the position where I need to outsmart the other guys. I really enjoy taking down the big guys."

Scotti has been doing that since graduating from Fairleigh Dickinson University in 1980. With relatives in the music and television industry, he says, he was destined for the entertainment business and thought he would most likely wind up in television. He just didn't know how or where.

His first job after college was at Morris Cablevision, Morristown, N.J., where he started out as an assistant to the president of the small cable company, which had only 12,000 subscribers.

The job provided Scotti's first professional challenge: obtaining subscribers. "We were trying to get people on board with something that was technologically incompatible with their TV set. It required a new piece of equipment, a converter. We also had to influence their buying decision because people now had to start paying for something they had been getting for free. I wouldn't say we were underdogs, but we had a lot of convincing to do."

He became general manager after just two years with the company, which, by 1983, had nearly 30,000 subscribers. That year, though, Sammons Communications acquired Morris Cablevision, and Scotti knew it was time to move on. He landed at Showtime in New York City. Eventually director of all national accounts, he stayed for 11 years, helping expand the channel's subscriber base from 5 million subscribers to well over 12 million.

At Showtime, Scotti was faced with selling the No. 2 cable movie channel to MSOs. "We were the underdog for sure, because HBO was always perceived as the top premium channel. We were competing with their marketing campaigns, with their sales forces and their movies."

In 1994, just weeks after Scotti was promoted to vice president of sales and marketing at Showtime Event Television., his cousins came calling. Tony, Ben and Fred Scotti ran a successful record, promotion and television company. Scotti says he had had an opportunity to go to work with them after college but had held out, hoping to earn his own stripes in the industry. When Tony Scotti offered him a job in 1994, the timing and position were right. He became senior vice president of marketing and sales at All American Television, producer of syndicated fare.

He was teamed with veteran syndication executive George Back (now president of Unapix Entertainment). "George said, 'Welcome aboard. Here's 40 markets. Now go out and sell,'" says Scotti, who sold Baywatch, The Adventures of Sinbad and a handful of syndicated movie packages that first year. "They were 40 tough markets. And he said don't come back until you've cleared all of them."

Back laughs, "I figured in his case, new to syndication and all, that this would be a real test for him. It's called sink or swim. And sure enough, he swam pretty well."

Three years ago, when All American TV was acquired by the U.K.'s Pearson Television, Scotti became executive vice president of distribution and marketing for Pearson Television North America. He has since overseen sales of Baywatch Hawaii (the 10-year-old show was renamed this season) and a bounty of game shows.

With the vertically integrated Hollywood studios increasingly owning broadcast stations and programming platforms, Pearson is one of the few independent syndicators. Scotti says the company is looking to partner with station groups and also to make a bigger impact in the U.S.

"We were the underdog at Morris Cablevision, we were the underdog at Showtime, we were the underdog at All American, and now we are the underdog at Pearson," says Scotti. "But we are going to be successful here. I pride myself on turning things around and finding solutions to problems and cutting through the baloney. And that's what we are doing. Pearson Television will be bigger and stronger in the U.S. marketplace over the next few years. Just watch."-Joe Schlosser

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