The economy is rebounding and advertising revenue, as well as subscription levels, looks to be strong for the foreseeable future.
Such was the consensus among the cable toppers at Tuesday’s Hollywood Radio and Television Society lunch, who gathered at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza for a freewheeling discussion on the state of the biz.
According to newly minted Discovery topper Peter Liguori, scatter prices for ad time is much stronger than for commercials bought at the upfront while Michael Lombardo, head of programming for HBO, added there was little churn in subscribers. “We were ready for a downturn last year but ended up high, and even got a rate increase,” he said
Said Lauren Zalaznick, head of NBC Universal Women and Lifestyle Entertainment Networks: “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, 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 explained 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.”
Turner head Steve Koonin and Lombardo agreed that theatricals continue to play huge factor in filling the programming pipeline.
Koonin said Turner, which includes TBS and TNT, has proven itself to both viewers and the ad community that it can compete on an even playing field with broadcast, and “we want to get paid for the value we provide.”
Initially, Koonin said Turner was at a disadvantage in that TBS and TNT were just “alphabet soup” to viewers in that their brand and programming focus wasn’t in the name of the net, but now, “We get noticed for shows that can’t be found on broadcast.”
As far as acquiring series from other cablers — such as TBS buying “Sex and the City” from HBO — Koonin said there’s no downside to the strategy. The former Coke exec reiterated that it’s all about progams being given a chance to succeed.
“We don’t care where our shows are from,” he explained. “We just need to find vehicles and have audiences sample our product.”
Rainbow topper Joshua Sapan said one of his goals going forward is seeing Sundance Channel move overseas and being positioned as a global brand, rather than just a Stateside enterprise.