For today's cable networks, a well-defined and marketed brand
is not only the key to success, but the only way to stand out, in what has been
dubbed by media watchers as the "Golden Age of Cable."
It is especially true for the trio of cable programming executives
on the panel at the Hollywood Radio & Television Society's "Cable Chiefs" Newsmaker
Luncheon on Wednesday. The panel was moderated by Electus chairman Ben Silverman,
who called the panelists "multichannel heads," given their oversight of not
one, but many, cable channels.
Nancy Dubuc, president of entertainment and media at A+E
Networks, who has oversight of A&E, Lifetime and History, said that each of
the cable networks have their "own brand fulfillment. It's our job to not only
manage that, but evolve that. I think we've done that at A&E Networks, of
evolving these brands while staying true to what they stand for."
Such is the case with Hatfields
& McCoys, which Dubuc mentioned throughout the panel as having
solidified cable's place alongside broadcast, with its record numbers when it
premiered. The miniseries was History's first foray into scripted programming
and drew a larger audience than the broadcast networks for the week it aired.
But History, with its self-explanatory name, has less of an
effort to make when establishing its brand identity, and therefore a greater
advantage when marketing to its audience. Turner Entertainment Networks
president Steve Koonin-with oversight of TBS, TNT, TCM and truTV-says that having
an "alphabet soup" network name puts them at a disadvantage.
"When you manage a brand, you have to define who you are and
consistently deliver against that," Koonin said. "It is vitally important as
the business gets more fractured, that consumers have that navigation."
The fracturing business environment has been top of mind for
content creators, networks and distributors, especially with a greater push
towards TV Everywhere. HBO is a standout example of the power of TV Everywhere
with its highly popular HBO Go app, which allows subscribers to view the
network's content on multiple devices.
Michael Lombardo, president of programming at HBO, still
attests that appointment viewing is the way to better reach an audience. So-called
"binge-viewing" (as made popular by the all-at-once release of Netflix's House of Cards), he said, may not be "the
best way to keep a viewer engaged emotionally.
"For us, the best of both worlds is to have both the on
demand and Go experience," Lombardo said. "But...our hope is that Game of Thrones becomes a Sunday night
The executives all agreed that the way to reach those
audiences is via quality content. With cable racking up Emmys, Golden Globes
and SAG awards as well as viewers, the pressure is on to create better content
to compete with the likes of ratings-drawing The Walking Dead or the acclaimed Homeland on their respective cable rivals.
Without broadcast network oversight, the cable networks have
more opportunity to focus on creating rather than pleasing advertisers-and
content is what has fueled the rise of cable, according to Koonin.
"You can work in broadcast and you can make a
lot of money, or you can work with cable and you can have your vision," Koonin
summed up. "We value content."