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Lion cables its roar

Robina set to be Comcast/Sony Nets prexy

NEW YORK — Comcast and Sony took their first major step toward creating a batch of fresh cable networks in the U.S. by hiring Diane Robina, an MTV Networks maven, as president of Comcast/Sony Networks, a newly created post.

Robina’s job will be to figure out how best to use more than 7,500 theatrical pics from the Columbia Pictures and MGM libraries and thousands of hours of TV series episodes owned by the merged companies.

Comcast is gaining access to the Sony library thanks to the financial support it delivered to help Sony buy out MGM for $4.8 billion last year.

There are so many categories of movies and TV shows that Comcast/Sony could set up two or more networks by branded genres like comedy, action, horror and drama. The other alternative is tossing the movies and TV series into a batch of general-entertainment nets, similar to the way TV Land operates. (Robina helped to develop TV Land and was its associate general manager for a number of years.)

But general entertainment can become a trap: The problem with making the networks so all-encompassing is that it could be harder for Comcast/Sony to market them as brands.

A matter of access

Even before its takeover of MGM, Sony was looking into building cable nets based on its own library. But the sticking point always came down to distribution: Cable operators and the satellite companies DirecTV and EchoStar were not rushing to take on the expense of adding digital webs; these operators and satcasters were finding it harder to raise monthly subscriber fees under the scrutiny of D.C. regulators.

But Comcast is by far the biggest cable operator in the U.S., and 8.9 million of its 21 million subscribers rent digital boxes, which could serve as a healthy base for the Comcast/Sony networks. In addition, Comcast also plans to sell the networks to DirecTV, Time Warner Cable, EchoStar and all their counterparts as distributors of cable programming.

The other principals to the Sony takeover of MGM — Providence Equity Partners, the Texas Pacific Group and DLT Merchant Banking Partners — “may be added to the new-networks venture as it proceeds forward,” according to a Comcast statement.

Robina has resigned as exec VP of acquisitions strategies for MTV Networks and will move from New York to Comcast’s HQ in Philadelphia, where she reports to prexy of programming Jeff Shell. Sony’s point person for the new networks is Steve Mosko, president of Sony Pictures TV.

Earlier in her MTV career, Robina was exec VP and general manager of TNN: The National Network before it became Spike TV.

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