Cable programmers emboldened by a dual revenue stream business model are nevertheless facing the wild west of delivery and consumption options where consumers will increasingly drive the agenda.
Having been more circumspect about putting content online, cable programmers that have enjoyed a lifetime of subscription growth are now looking for growth elsewhere.
Where that growth will come from was the focus of the "Behind the Screens: Program Networks & the Incredible Expanding Universe" panel here Tuesday at Cable Show 2010.
"What you're seeing now is not a flat-line [in subscriber growth], it's just not going to be the growth we've gotten used to," said Bridget Baker, president of NBC Universal Television Networks Distribution.
Baker's purview includes top rated basic cable networks USA and SyFy. But smaller networks are also turning their attention from subscriber and ratings growth to multiplatform monetization and amortization that bridges linear television and the myriad multiplatform choices.
The strategy at BET has been to make the network the premiere destination for the African-American consumer with more relevant programming and enhanced as well as exclusive Web content with an emphasis on social networking.
"The whole point of our brand strategy was to super serve our constituency," said Janet Rolle, Executive Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer of BET Networks.
As the African American consumer has become more desirable, added Rolle, BET, the first and once exclusive cable network serving African Americans, has new competitors.
"It really became absolutely essential that we started to look at the ways that we would serve our audience and be more relevant [to them] than anyone else trying to compete with us," said Rolle.
BET is coming off a record year of ratings growth that has propelled the network into basic cable's top 20.
"That sort of proves the case that if you brand properly and you stick to that there still is room for growth even in a business that is considered mature," added Rolle.
The panel also included Rebecca Glashow, senior vice president, digital media distribution for Discovery Communications; John Lansing, president of Scripps Networks; and Emiliano Calemzuk, president of Fox Television Studios.
But the thorny issue of monetizing streamed content remains.
"At my company [NBC Universal] you get into a discussion about the ecosystem of how content is created and distributed," said Baker, "and free is not part of the discussion. The discussion about the Internet as a growth strategy and not just a brand enhancement is a challenging proposition."
" When you look at a show that you're spending millions of dollars an episode on, we want to make sure that the content is exploited across different windows but that each window provides some value," said Calemzuk.
"Content producers are experimenting. I think we need to think about it and take some pause just to make sure that one plus one will equal 2 and a half as opposed to zero."