Laybourne Tells Cable's Side of Story


With more than 25 years in the cable industry, Oxygen Media Chairman/CEO Geraldine Laybourne was a logical pick to co-host this year's NCTA National Show, subtitled “Cable: A Great American Success Story.” She talked to B&C's Anne Becker about niche networks, dueling with EchoStar, and the crucial issues facing the industry.

Why this particular title for the convention?

Cable hasn't really gotten credit for what it's done. I've been one of the outspoken people about that. This is the year to roll out the story—and it's a great story. When you think about what this group of entrepreneurs did for the United States and for consumers, it's extraordinary. In the last five years, the cable operators have spent $100 billion on the infrastructure for cable. I don't even have the beginning of an idea of how much has been invested on the programming side, but I'm sure it's in the billions range. We all came about it with a very entrepreneurial spirit, and we played by the rules, and we created hundreds of thousands of American jobs and provided some of the greatest brands in America, so it's a great story to tell.

You've fought to get 66 million subscribers. How bad is the blood between cable operators and programmers right now over pricing?

We made the decision early on that we were going to have as our motto “We want to be your favorite.” We saw it as a strategic advantage that we wanted to be a good partner because so much tension was in the marketplace when we launched and even more tension is in the marketplace today.

Even recently, we got the EchoStar deal because we had been at EchoStar headquarters at least two dozen times, we consistently played the good-partner card, and they finally rewarded us. We didn't cave and go on a lesser tier, which they offered us years ago, because we want to be a fully distributed network. We weren't pushovers, but we really hung in there, and we got the distribution we wanted on the platform we wanted.

Is niche networks' programming becoming increasingly homogeneous?

Maybe networks that focus on arts and entertainment: Bravo and A&E. We're true to our audience, and we like our space. But we didn't pick a little niche. We picked a big, influential niche—young women very desired by advertisers—and there's loads of growth room in our so-called niche. I believe in cable brands, and I believe that staying true to your customer pays off in the long run.

The broadcasting model, which is a show model, is not really one that I've subscribed to over the years. It's not that we don't want good shows—we do—but there's always an overarching piece of “Does this fit on Oxygen?” When we make an acquisition, it's “So, what's so Oxygen about this?”

What's your strategy on distributing content on multiple platforms?

We're in the camp that is experimenting with a lot of different partners and learning. We are not conservative. We don't believe we should sit and wait. We're platform-agnostic at this point as we're learning.