Cable Chiefs Waiting on the Money

HRTS luncheon panelists cautiously optimistic about ad market recovery
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Top cable network executives may be slightly buffered from the wear and tear
of the recession by recent ratings successes and their dual-revenue-stream
model of advertising and carriage fees. But a group of them assembled in Los
Angeles Feb. 23 wondered aloud about the same thing on
most TV minds: When will the recession will be over and recovery in the
business start?

"Everybody is waiting to see if the money is coming back," said
Lauren Zalaznick president, NBC Universal Women & Lifestyle Entertainment
Networks, during "The Cable Chiefs" luncheon presented by the
Hollywood Radio & Television Society.

Zalaznick was joined on the dais at The Hyatt Regency Century Plaza Hotel by
Steve Koonin, president, Turner Entertainment Networks; Peter Liguori, chief
operating officer, Discovery Communications; Michael Lombardo, President of
Programming & West Coast Operations, HBO; Joshua Sapan, President &
Chief Executive Officer, Rainbow Media Holdings LLC; and Van Toffler,
President, MTV Networks Music/Films/Logo Group. Kevin Beggs, HRTS President
& President, Lionsgate Television, moderated the discussion.

Zalaznick and her fellow panelists pointed to the resilience of certain
demos in recent times as evidence that the recovery will come. Zalaznick, for
example, explained that young, female Oxygen viewers who have remained employed
during the recession continued to spend. "They're still paying their
rent," she said.

Still, she was careful to say she does not want to leave any ratings on the
table. And as cable network toppers plot their upfront ad sales pitches, no one
knows exactly how any of the cautious optimism out there about an improving
economic picture might translate to ad sales. Scatter prices are up, but media
agencies' confidence in getting consumers to spend in response to marketing
campaigns remains unclear.

Liguori says visibility on marketers' plans is better than it was six months
ago, but there's still a ways to go toward an entirely clear picture.

Meantime, Koonin says, the playing fields for cable versus broadcast are
beginning to even out. He says TNT's The
Closer
, Men of a Certain Age and Leverage are able to
compete with broadcast pricing. But while the upfront take is not as
dramatically favored toward broadcast as it was even three years ago--when 70%
of upfront spends went to broadcast compared to 30% for cable--a gap remains.

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