Blank: Niche Audiences Can Cut Both Ways - Broadcasting & Cable

Blank: Niche Audiences Can Cut Both Ways

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Creating programming that caters to niche audiences can be a double-edged
sword, Showtime Networks Inc. CEO Matt Blank said ruefully Monday at the National Association of Multi-Ehtnicity in Communications
conference in New York.

"We have had tremendous success reaching out to underserved audiences," Blank
said, pointing to shows like African-American drama Soul Food, Latino
drama Resurrection Blvd. and gay-themed Queer as Folk. But when the
network cancels a show, like it did with Resurrection Blvd., the criticism
can be as loud as the applause for putting it on.

The Showtime chief appeared on a NAMIC panel dishing on diversity in
programming and personnel with MTV Networks chairman Tom Freston and Pamela
Thomas-Graham, president and CEO of CNBC.

The NAMIC conference runs through Tuesday and is part of cable's fall
"Diversity Week," highlighted by Wednesday night's Walter Kaitz Foundation
benefit dinner.

Regarding his programming, Blank said, "We were rewarded for putting
[Resurrection Blvd.] on the air. We shouldn't be penalized because on a
Showtime, it has much more of a chance, much more of an opportunity for 50
episodes than it would on, say, ABC."

Showtime, he added, is still committed to niche shows. In January, the pay service
is slated to debut The L Word, which features lesbian characters, and
Blank said he just screened a new series pilot created by filmmaker Spike
Lee.

As an example of his company's success with diversity in programming, Freston pointed to kids' network Nickelodeon, which features minority characters in
shows like Dora the Explorer and Hey Arnold!.

Attracting diverse audiences, Freston said, "has given Nickelodeon the
ratings edge that has made it a tremendous business success for us."

One of CNBC's biggest challenges in fostering diversity, Thomas-Graham said,
is finding minority talent to work on-air and behind the
camera.

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