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Showtime Chairman Matt Blank Recalls Early Days at HBO

Matt Blank’s reign as chairman of Showtime began in 1995, but his roots as an exec in the cable industry extend even further. It was in his role as VP of consumer marketing at HBO that he earned his first Variety nod back in 1983, as Cinemax was being launched. “It scares me that I was actually in Variety 30 years ago,” he says.

Do you remember this story when it ran?

I can’t say I remember the specific piece, but I do remember saying, “Hey, I’m in Variety!” Variety in those days was this mysterious publication that arrived on everyone’s doorstep in L.A. at 5 in the morning. People in Hollywood read Variety before they read the L.A. Times. Those things loomed large in those days. They still do, in different ways.

What do you think now about this campaign?

It was the first national campaign that Cinemax came up with. There are a couple of things that are significant. I don’t think it says here how much we spent, but I suspect it was something in the area of $1 million. Not very much. There was a tremendous focus back then on who was No. 2, who was No. 3, who was No. 4. Now we don’t focus on that. We focus on: Is our revenue growing? Is our profit growing? Are our subscribers growing? When I read this piece, what occurred to me is how singularly focused we were on movies in those days. Fast forward 30 years or so, we don’t spend a lot of effort marketing movies. We focus on the great, proprietary critical programming.

What have you learned over the course of your career?

In this business, you learn that you can’t look back; you have to look forward. There’s a tremendous amount of rapid change. If you don’t have the ability to adapt, it’s going to be a tough future for you. We feel very fortunate that the subscription model has proved to be very flexible. And we’re learning now that our brand travels well into the broadband space as we’ve rolled out our various over-the-top offerings in the past six months. It was a pretty simple world back in 1983, even though I’m sure at the time it didn’t seem that way.

What’s the secret of your longevity in this industry?

I can’t believe how long I’ve lasted. I think I’ve been very fortunate, fortunate to work with companies with a lot of opportunity at a particular point in time. When I came to Showtime, it was a company in transition. We’ve benefited greatly from the growth of the distribution business. And now we’re seeing the same growth from the OTT distributors. For me personally, it’s been great to be there when we could start to invest aggressively in content that we own and control. That looms large as we look to the future.

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