Showtime Gives Topper A Spin

Showtime Networks has promoted Matt Blank to the new post of president and chief operating officer, freeing Showtime’s chairman, Tony Cox, to get more involved in overall cable-industry activities.

Blank, formerly exec v.p., marketing, says his biggest task over the next few years will be “to make it easier and more inexpensive for cable subs to gain access to the premium channels.” (A “premium” channel is the industry’s euphemism for a pay-tv net like Showtime and its sister service the Movie Channel.)

Showtime is spearheading a longterm strategy, the goal of which is to blur the distinction between basic-cable networks and paycable networks. Showtime’s subscriber count has stayed stagnant at about 7 million over the last year or two, and Blank says a key reason is “the soaring price of the viewer’s basic-cable bill since the government deregulated the industry.”

By the time the subscriber has ponied up his monthly fee for all of the basic-cable networks, he’s less than thrilled about paying an additional $10 bucks or so for a Showtime or an HBO. On Showtime’s drawing boards is an attempt to steer the cable operator toward setting up a six-channel tier that would encompass four high-powered basic networks (like ESPN, USA, TNT and AMC) and two paycable networks (HBO and Showtime would be the most desirable two-some).

In tandem with Blank’s promotion, Showtime has added the marketing responsibility to Jack Heim’s duties as executive v.p. of sales. Heim will report to Blank, as will Jim Miller, executive v.p. of programming, and Mac Lipscomb, senior v.p. of corporate affairs.

Blank joined Showtime Networks in February 1988 after serving 12 years as an executive with HBO, where he rose to senior v.p. of consumer marketing, with responsibility for advertising, promotion and direct marketing.

Cox is also an alumnus of HBO, and he and Blank have worked closely together for the past 15 years.

Blank’s promotion will enable Cox to concentrate on various Showtime ventures as well as on issues relating to the cable industry. “Tony [Cox] is juggling 50 balls in the air at one time,” says Blank. “He’s active in cable’s lobbying effort in Washington, he’s a board member of the National Cable Television Association and he’s working on a bunch of other Showtime businesses, everything from the pay-per-view operation to the backyard-dish subscribers.”

John Dempsey in New York and Morrie Gelman in Hollywood contributed to this report.

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