Programmers Face Reality at Ad Confab

2/16/2003 7:00 PM Eastern

New York— The reality-programming craze that's gripped the broadcast networks of late commanded some cable programmers' attention at last week's Cable Advertising Conference here.

During brief "chats" with E! Entertainment Television's Wild On
host Jules Asner, programming executives assessed the genre, while talking up their own shows and strategies.

"We have to figure out how to counter it," said Fox Cable Networks Group CEO Peter Liguori. "I don't think we can outgross Fear Factor."

The best counterprogramming strategy is to come up with "great storytelling."

He described American Candidate, FX's planned entry, as "almost a Survivor
of the political system."

Said USA Cable president Doug Herzog: "Reality is going to be around for a while, but maybe not in as big doses as now." He said his channel offers "a great alternative to broadcast, especially as they go deeper in the reality pool.

"There's a bigger opportunity for us in the scripted area," Herzog added. As the broadcasters use more and more reality series to fix time slots, he said, "It's a little bit like heroin for them."

Although USA is a general-entertainment network, Herzog said its strategy is to offer "niche nights" featuring comedy or crime, for example.

Parsons's take

But AOL Time Warner Inc. CEO Richard Parsons, the conference keynoter, disagreed with Herzog on reality's staying power. He likened such fare to a passing fad, like hula hoops, disco or citizens' band radios.

Scripted programs will remain the most important category for his company's networks, Parsons emphasized.

During his conversation with Asner, Discovery Networks U.S. president Billy Campbell said that Discovery Channel's Monster House, a Monster Garage
spin-off, is due in the second quarter.

Comedy Central executive vice president Bill Hilary said his network will spend "$30 million extra" on original fare. Hilary said he's pleased with how the new Chapelle's Show
has rated initially with adults 18 to 49.

Johnson & Johnson vice president of advertising Andrea Alstrup said her company has been spending its cable dollars more selectively and with greater impact, via its cross-media deal with Discovery Networks, its promotional link with WE: Women's Entertainment's "Me Time Day" and its original-movies package deal with Turner Network Television.

TNT executive vice president Steve Koonin said his network is customizing solutions for clients like J&J.

Parsons later cited the J&J-TNT deal as illustrative of his company's ability to help clients build leverage for their brands.

Liguori said that to generate audience for shows like FX's The Shield, "It's not just marketing or original programming. You have to have both barrels blazing."

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