Programmers to Strut in Big Easy

Strong ratings, critical acclaim and multiple platforms raise their profile
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As cable's biggest players converge at the 57th annual National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA) show in New Orleans May 17-20, programmers pumped up by strong ratings have much to celebrate.

The show, this year called “Think Big!” will host programmers from cable's content giants, including Lifetime Networks, Discovery Communications, Comcast Corp. and News Corp., on panels and exhibitions on the more than 200,000-square-foot floor.

“It's a great opportunity to meet with both the developers of technologies and the distributors of content to see where the opportunities are to align ourselves,” says Lifetime's Digital Media/Business Development Executive VP Dan Suratt.

Cable networks are heading into the show strong in the wake of the protracted writers' strike, which left their broadcast counterparts hobbled. Many cable networks posted their best-ever ratings last quarter, soaring with original programming as broadcast networks scrambled to ready goofy reality shows in place of viewers' favorite scripted dramas. At the same time, cable in aggregate continues to broaden its share of the total TV audience pie, as broadcast's dwindles.

Network executives made this point abundantly clear to the advertising community at this year's round of upfront presentations. Now, they will look to bring the message to operators, driving home the point that record-rating programming in addition to innovative ways to distribute that programming make them invaluable partners.

Comcast plans to showcase its Style Network through a branded bus that will visit a Cox call center, a local mall and other sites, as well as booth meet-and-greets with talent like E!'s Kardashian family, Sprout's Barney, Style's Thom Filicia and Versus' hockey legend Gordie Howe. Meanwhile, Fox Cable will showcase FX Network this year, through a booth appearance by Glenn Close, star of its Damages series, to show attendees that “this is a network that's arrived,” says FX President John Landgraf.

Comcast's thePlatform, a broadband video management company, will partner with PBS to power its new online video initiative, which will greatly increase the amount of PBS video available on both Pbs.org and local PBS station Websites.

Lifetime will spotlight its HD, VOD, and digital products by sponsoring a Sunday WICT event, hosting talent like Army Wives' Sally Pressman at their booth, and introducing its new brand through “Flying Tigress, ”a Lifetime-branded plane, at the Chairman's Reception.

“The world has changed in terms of how people access content and interact with it,” says Lori Conkling, Executive VP, Distribution for Lifetime Networks. “It's really not about linear channels. It's about how people can access Lifetime no matter where they are or what they're doing.”

Discovery plans to focus on three key areas—the June 4 launch of its Planet Green channel, whose content has already been previewed on video-on-demand; its high-definition service—with Green, Discovery will boast five channels in HD; and new ways to program video-on-demand, including this summer's content about NASA's 50th anniversary, some of which will premiere on-demand before it runs on linear TV.

Says Discovery's Lori McFarling, division marketing officer, domestic distribution and enterprises, Discovery Communications, “The big message for us is whether it's linear or HD, or no matter what platform it is, this show gives us an opportunity to delve into conversations with distributors about how we can optimize our content to drive new value with their customers.”

While the confab is mostly a hardware showcase, several panels will focus on programming. These include Sunday's “Seeing Green: Practical Approaches for Environmental Stewardship,” including The Weather Channel's Debora Wilson, Discovery's Eileen O'Neill and National Geographic's Steve Schiffman.

On Monday, “Now Entering VOD-Ville: New Dimensions for Anytime Video” will feature NBC Universal's Jeff Gaspin and Discovery's David Zaslav.

For complete coverage of the NCTA Show, go tobroadcasintcable.com.

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