Network toppers discuss state of biz at HRTS lunch

The economy is rebounding, and advertising revenue and subscription levels look to be strong for the foreseeable future.

Such was the consensus among the cable toppers who gathered for Tuesday’s Hollywood and Radio Television Society lunch at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza, where a freewheeling discussion on the state of the biz took place.

According to newly minted Discovery chief operating officer Peter Liguori, scatter prices for ad time are much stronger than for commercials bought at the upfront, while Michael Lombardo, head of programming for HBO, added there is little churn in subscribers. “We were ready for a downturn last year but ended up high, and even got a rate increase,” he said.

Lauren Zalaznick, head of NBC Universal Women and Lifestyle Entertainment Networks, said: “Everyone is waiting for the money to flow back. It’s better than it was 12 months ago. Our mission right now is to get out of a clenched position and reconnect with audiences.”

Zalaznick added that while many large congloms continue to gobble up smaller nets, the focus of the cable industry should not be to contract but, instead, to broaden its reach.

On the programming front, there was friendly chatter about MTV’s hit “The Jersey Shore.” The cabler’s topper, Van Toffler, said the show was first created for sister net VH1, but execs believed the show was a better fit for the younger-skewing MTV.

And the secret to its success?

“We like to get combustible elements in a room and let them explode,” he said of the skein’s eccentric cast. In differentiating between what might work for one of his channels and not the other, Toffler continued: “We’re slaves to different audiences. We’re more into millennials at MTV and an older audience at VH1. When you see a show, you just know what works for each network. Summer (Redstone) and Philippe (Dauman) have faith in our ability to find an audience.”

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