Holloway Rides Out Cable-Industry Changes

After 20 years, it's no longer a 'good-old-boy business'

Doug Holloway has been leading USA Network's distribution for two decades. That's unusual longevity for an executive in today's consolidated media world. In that time, USA's ownership has changed hands, and the network gained sister channels.

He started his career elsewhere in the cable industry. Toiling in affiliate sales for CBS Cable, he covered 25 cable systems and traveled the country for weeks at a time. His favorite stops were cities and regions he had never visited before, particularly in the Pacific Northwest. When that venture shut down in 1981, he moved to TV Cable Week, an early listing service for cable operators.

At the urging of USA Network founder Kay Koplovitz, he joined USA in 1983 and took charge of national accounts.

Koplovitz—who is credited with nurturing numerous cable executives—fostered his career at USA, Holloway says: "I was given assignments and exposure to help development as an executive." By '88, he was heading USA's affiliate-sales operations.

As he set out building USA, he recalls, "cable was moving from the good-old-boy business to a more sophisticated business."

While cable operators have consolidated their operations, the programming offerings have burgeoned, and both situations have had dramatic implications for Holloway's end of the business. "Today, you have a lot of competition for distribution because of the sheer volume of channels." The stakes are much higher than they were: "You don't have a lot of room for error. You have to get every deal."

Of course, his USA Network and Sci Fi Channels are nearly fully distributed, but Holloway is always stumping. He's currently seeking carriage deals for digital nets Trio and News World International (NWI).

Holloway has spent years cultivating relationships with MSOs. He signed his first distribution deal more than 20 years ago on the floor of the Western Cable Show, an agreement with Guam Cable to carry CBS Cable. Now he barters with the likes of Comcast and DirecTV for access to millions of homes.

Whatever the size of the deal, he says, the sales pitch stays very much the same: It's about delivering value. "The cable operator is in the business of selling programming. To the extent that networks deliver that, then they are happy."

Original programming always makes his pitch easier. In the 1990s, original shows La Femme Nikita
and Silk Stalkings
put USA in demand. When originals languished, so did its ratings. Today, Monk
and The Dead Zone
have reinvigorated USA, and miniseries like ratings smash Taken
and upcoming Children of Dune
are fueling Sci Fi.

Sci Fi Channel might have programming cachet now, but Holloway remembers trying to get the network off the ground in the early '90s. It was his first channel launch, and ESPN2, TV Land and History Channel were also getting started. "There was a big rush to secure distribution."

Plus, he adds, "everyone had a different idea of what Sci Fi should be." In 10 years, Sci Fi has grown to nearly 80 million homes.

Holloway is navigating a similar channel rush as digital networks angle for carriage. His diginets are slowly building: Trio is in about 17 million homes, NWI about 16 million.

He's also in familiar territory as speculation swirls that USA Network and its Universal Television Group cousin could be up for sale. Holloway has survived multiple USA owners, which included media giants Time Inc., Paramount, and Universal and media mogul Barry Diller.

If Universal Entertainment changes hands again, Holloway will rely on his survival skills of 20 years: "Try to do the best job I can. Try not to be a victim of internal politics. Try to stay out of harm's way."