The year 2013 was a good one for IFC president/GM Jennifer Caserta. It was her first full year at the helm of the former Independent Film Channel, and with new series such as Maron and The Birthday Boys, the network that has successfully positioned itself as the home of offbeat sitcoms posted the best year in its history, thanks to double-digit ratings gains.
“We feel like we’re on to something,” said Caserta, noting that the network’s good fortunes actually stretch back a couple of years. “We are seeing growth every year.”
Caserta is planning for 2014 to continue that ratings momentum with IFC’s largest original programming slate. The lineup includes a fourth season of the net’s branddefining sketch show Portlandia, another installment of R. Kelly’s hip-hop opera Trapped in the Closet and its first all-female series, Garfunkel & Oates.
IFC got the ball rolling with the Jan. 9 premiere of The Spoils of Babylon, its miniseries/“ big TV event” parody under Will Ferrell and Adam McKay’s Funny Or Die banner.
Caserta noted that with miniseries making a comeback right now, the timing of Spoils is a happy coincidence. “I don’t think many networks would take a chance on something like this,” she said, adding it was one of the few series she got to be in the pitch room for. “They told us what it was, and we got it immediately.”
Spoils of Babylon was exactly the type of offbeat comedy Caserta had in mind when she led the 2010 rebrand of the channel, which saw it transition away from an indie film network.
Around 2008 Caserta “had a hunch” that the network could be more than a place for little-known, small-budget films. So she and her team began to experiment with nontraditional scripted comedies, which they found through audience research were the programs that performed best compared to their indie film roster. That sold Caserta on rebranding the net as a destination for smart comedy. “We knew that we had to more seriously commit to an original programming strategy,” she said.
Caserta then helped the network come up with its “Always On. Slighty Off.” tagline, which she said comes from the phrase “off the beaten path.” She jokes that internally, IFCers refer to their brand pointedly as “Sh*t You Can’t Find Anywhere Else.”
As part of the brand reboot, Caserta led the transition from a sponsorship model to a fully ad-supported business with public ratings.
While most have referenced the net under its new “IFC” moniker, it was still occasionally referred to under its original name. Earlier this month, Caserta did the paperwork to change the Independent Film Channel moniker.
“The name ‘Independent Film Channel’ has been legally retired and IFC as an acronym now stands for nothing,” Caserta said during the network’s session at the Winter TCA Press Tour. “Starting today, IFC is legally IFC.”
It’s that type of wit—and her frighteningly speedy response to emails—that Caserta’s boss, Ed Carroll, COO of IFC parent company AMC Networks, champions.
“Jen’s sensibility is a great fit for the IFC brand. She has guided the channel toward its unique ‘smart comedy’ position. Her style is very collaborative, and her enthusiasm is infectious,” Carroll said. “She also seems to answer every email within four seconds, regardless of the time of day or night. I find that a little scary.”
A Cable Lifer
Before attending Hunter College, Caserta studied dance at the High School of Performing Arts in Manhattan. But she realized she would have to take a different career path. “I wasn’t necessarily tall enough or talented enough to be on Broadway,” she said.
So she turned to Plan B, television. “I wanted to be in cable since I was in college,” said the self-described “TV junkie.”
Her first TV job was as a marketing manager for Food Network. Seemingly destined to work for smaller-distribution cablers, she later held ad sales and marketing positions at Oxygen and Court TV.
Caserta came to IFC in 2004 as VP of marketing and was there for a couple of years before moving over to then-corporate sibling Fuse as executive VP and GM. Former IFC head Evan Shapiro brought her back to the channel in 2007. She was named president in 2012 after Shapiro left for Participant Media.
Between past experience and her role over the last year and a half, Caserta has learned what it takes to run a network. “If you really just remind yourself and remind your staff of the focus and the mission of the network, it’s amazing how much you can get done,” she said.
The effort and success have not gone unnoticed. In 2010, Caserta was named to the list of “Wonder Women” by Multichannel News and Women in Cable Telecommunications.
Caserta’s busy hours keep her from being too glued to the TV, yet she noted that her lack of sleep allows her to catch up on her favorite shows, which include Sons of Anarchy, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia and Girls. “I do have insomnia,” she said with a laugh. “My DVR is always on overdrive.”