Members of the B&C Hall of Fame class of 2008 come from every walk of elite media life. The group is an inspired mix of station and network execs, creators and marketers, media members and chroniclers, sellers and buyers—all pillars of influence, with unmatched reputations for far-thinking viewpoints and telling it like it is.
That kind of thinking comes in handy at the moment. These are crucial times, with rampant uncertainty about Washington and Wall Street and plenty hanging in the balance. Media's place must remain the same—as observer and informer, offering entertainment, information and, above all, perspective.
B&C asked the members of the class to weigh in on these momentous times, to look back at where the industry has been and where it's going. We began with the question: “What did you learn in 2008 that will inform your decision-making in the year ahead?”
The answers, some provocative and others pensive, offer a fascinating blueprint.
Chairman and CEO, Fox News and Fox Television Stations
As soon as good news occurs on a topic the media doesn't want to talk about, they will immediately kill it and switch to something else. So as the surge began to work in Iraq, the news coverage of Iraq went down 38% in two weeks. And it got filled with Bush Recession, which helped drive us into a bad economic situation.
The media can change the agenda of the country quickly. The other thing that is interesting: There are a lot of fools handling your money. That's one of the things I've learned. And that therefore you need to handle your own money because as dumb as you are, you couldn't drive the whole country into a problem.
So you should handle your own money. And be careful when 38% of news coverage drops overnight. Something else is going on. Those are two of the things I've learned.
David J. Barrett
President and CEO, Hearst-Argyle Television
There can be no doubt that the media business as we've known it is undergoing profound change, resulting in new operating models, new media platforms and new financial realities. But still, the value of the American media proposition, and especially the local television viewer proposition, remains strong.
Every week—in good times and bad—our stations reach virtually every home in their communities, keeping viewers informed, entertained, engaged and hopeful. The unique art of the storyteller—the editor, the writer and the reporter—is as important today as it's ever been, and when expressed through the magic of television, as impactful as can be.
I'm hopeful that today's challenges and the stories we are reporting on will keep us vigilant about the critical importance of a free press in our society, and of our responsibility to serve our communities with integrity, honesty, fairness and imagination. With that in mind, the future prospects for American media and for local television are bright indeed.
Matthew C. Blank
Chairman and CEO, Showtime Networks
I've learned that things can change much more quickly than you think. I've always been a big believer of that. We're in a space where technology can change pretty quickly and change the business just as quickly.
In terms of the overall environment, the reality is [you should] take nothing for granted in this business world. The past may not be the best predictor of the future. We've done well with change. We've flourished in change. But if anything, the message is, surprising things can happen and you've got to be ready for anything.
Glenn A. Britt
President and CEO, Time Warner Cable
This past year has been further evidence for Time Warner Cable that our customers want to watch any content, anytime, anywhere, on any device. We have to be aware, as an industry, that consumers have an inherent expectation that once a piece of content is paid for, they should be able to transfer it to whichever platform is most convenient for them. The video content creation and distribution businesses are approaching a crossroads, and in order to continue our success, our products and services must give customers the control they want in ways that are simple and easy.
In many ways, the manifestation of these choices is playing out online. Content creators continue to view the online audience as completely additive, which we feel it is not.
In the end, consumers will choose free content over paid content; that is simply a fact of life. If content creators are not careful, they run the risk of damaging the current ecosystem, which has produced arguably the most diverse array of content anywhere in the world.
President, Telemundo Communications Group
We are in the midst of the biggest change in media and technology that we have seen in the past 60 years. And technology gets its transcending and transformational power from a creative community that produces relevant content. Consumers have been liberated by technology; they are in the driver's seat, telling us what they want, when they want it and how they are going to get it. Consumers are creating and producing information and content, and they no longer need traditional distribution. The one constant that will remain in our lives is change, and the need to rapidly adapt and evolve.
Two lessons of 2008 are one, to understand, embrace and position our businesses to take advantage of the dramatic growth and changing demographics and diversity in our country; and two, to open every organization to reverse mentoring—open big opportunities for late teens and twentysomethings, and adapt our traditional structures to unleash their energy and creativity. If we do that, they will pull back the curtain and give us a front-row seat to seeing the future.
President and CEO, Twentieth Television
Something we continue to do all of the time is work more closely with our TV station partners in not only developing programs but also helping market them. At the most basic level and literally across all departments, we have developed much greater communication between ourselves and the local stations with whom we work.
Our marketing and research team is constantly in communication with stations looking for ways to better execute campaigns and grow revenues. It's not about selling them a product and then saying, here's a marketing initiative and have at it. We have to do this together.
Herb A. Granath
Chairman Emeritus, ESPN; Co-Chairman, Crown Media Holdings; Vice Chairman, Central European Media
I don't know if anything that was learned earlier in 2008 will have any relevance in 2009, based on the change in the economics of the business. Those businesses that depend on advertising are all going to be adversely affected by the financial crisis. That in turn is going to have a trickle-down effect across the industry.
Still, in bad economic times, entertainment has done [comparatively] well mainly because people want to escape the day-to-day problems, and one of the least-expensive forms of entertainment is television. I think cable will do reasonably well.
Still, we have to face reality, and the events of the past few weeks change the whole equation. It is not just the advertising. Employment, hiring, the amount that people can spend on creating new programs, the amount of effort put into international distribution. You are not going to find people jumping on planes running around the world selling things. There's no market out there.
Vice Chairman, Zenith Media
Going into 2009, as clients review budgets we anticipate dollars will be pared back. This is where I see our responsibility as a portfolio advisor to be of even more critical importance and where Zenith can make the most contribution.
Marketers and their partners must continue to embrace new media/technologies and find ways of connecting with consumers. The more our clients get involved with content on multiple screens, [the more] we have to work with vendor partners to create an advertiser model that will provide better accountability and quantify return on investment.
Whether it was engaging the Today show's music lovers across multiple screens or in the halftime show of Sunday Night Football, we created profoundly integrated franchises for Toyota. The same held true for Garnier with the product integrations we constructed within the first-ever Webisodes in the daytime soap Passions.
In my new role as vice chairman, I will help our clients navigate the ever-evolving marketplace. We used to say “evolution.” It is more of a revolution.
Co-anchor, Today, NBC News
Often in the media, we have a habit of attempting to decide the outcome of stories before they've played out. We predict, we prognosticate, we poll and we plot, but what we have seen this year is that stories take their own course. And there is little that we can or should have to say about how they evolve.
At the beginning of primary season, we anointed Hillary Clinton and Rudy Giuliani as candidates to beat. We went so far as to predict what an election between them might look like. At times we seemed to build up a candidate to keep our own interest level high, ignoring the merit of a campaign.
We need to remember that the stories don't report to us; it's our job to report the stories. Shouldn't it be the person in the voting booth, not a person in the anchor chair, who decides where an election goes?
In 2009, I promise to relax, and not try to predict the unpredictable.
President and CEO, The Paley Center for Media
Whether the subject is the financial crisis and how it was or was not reported fully and clearly, or the presidential election and accusations of sexism, racism and ageism being hurled at mainstream media, looking at the events of this year through the lens of media has taken on more urgency and importance.
For The Paley Center for Media, this year offered up many opportunities to grow our significance. This will continue to be the case in 2009 as we bring together media leaders, creators and users to explore media's role and its impact. There's been no lack of subjects for our forums for top-level executives of media companies and businesses, or our programs designed for consumers and enthusiasts.
President and CEO, Rainbow Media Holdings LLC
With daily headlines calling into question our fundamental assumptions about nearly everything, the saying “only the strong survive” has been replaced by “only the smart survive.” That means being smart about what we do and how we do it.
At Rainbow, we have pushed ourselves to break out of the pack, and we've found that more often than not, quality is redeemed. Our original programming—from AMC's Mad Men and Breaking Bad to WE tv's The Locator and High School Confidential—has found passionate audiences that will help take those brands into the future.
In 2009, we have to continue looking for new, creative ways to develop revenue for all of our partners by creating distinctive, quality content and mining the opportunities presented by new technologies.
For example, our groundbreaking VOD businesses—IFC in Theaters, Festival Direct and Sundance Selects—use VOD to bring independent film to a national audience. They illustrate a growing and surprisingly robust market, proving that there are unexpected business opportunities when you create content that fits new technologies.
For more on the Hall of Fame honorees, including video profiles and photo galleries, log on to Broadcastingcable.com/hof2008.