Comcast Still Wants Programming Chief


Comcast Corp. is still hunting for a programming czar, a seasoned cable-network veteran to run its growing content portfolio, officials confirmed last week.

"At a certain scale, we need someone who's run multiple programming services," Comcast Cable president Stephen Burke said during an interview here.

Most recently, Comcast has been working with a local executive headhunter, Howard Fischer Associates International, to fill the slot.

USA Network president Doug Herzog was approached about the job, according to several sources. Herzog, and officials at Howard Fischer Associates, couldn't be reached for comment.

A new slot

The top executive programming post at Comcast would be a newly created position. The new official would be in charge of Comcast's programming assets.

The No. 1 U.S. MSO's varied content portfolio includes holdings in E! Entertainment Television, Style, Outdoor Life Channel, G4, The Golf Channel, regional service CN8: The Comcast Network, the start-up TV One and several regional sports services.

That roster seems likely to grow. Comcast has said it wants to continue to help incubate niche channels. "Whether it's two a year, or three one year and none the next year, you'll see us continue to birth new networks," Burke said.

In the process of selling its controlling stake in QVC Inc. to minority holder Liberty Media Corp. — which has exercised a buy-or-sell clause in the partnership — for $7.9 billion, Comcast is also in a good financial position to possibly buy established channels.

Comcast looked into bidding on Vivendi Universal Entertainment, but ultimately declined to make an offer.

"If you look at the company now — particularly post-QVC — for 21-million subs worth of distribution, we don't have enough content," Burke said in an interview.

Sought Bornstein

Last November, word leaked that Comcast had approached former ESPN and ABC Television president Steve Bornstein about the job. Burke confirmed that Comcast did try to hire Bornstein, who instead opted to take a gig as president of the new NFL Network in January.

At one point, Comcast even expressed an interest in trying to recruit MTV Networks chairman Tom Freston to head up its programming-assets unit, a source said.

Amy Banse, executive vice president of Comcast's programming-investments unit, would report to the new programming chief, according to Burke. The programming-investment unit, formed in January, currently manages Comcast's stakes in cable networks and seeks out investments in additional programming services.

Banse is a veteran lawyer who has negotiated or worked on many of Comcast's programming-acquisition deals. On her watch at the program-investments unit, Comcast has launched G4 and become a co-owner of TV One, an African-American-centered network slated to debut next year.

But Banse has never been involved with the day-to-day operations of a cable network, or a group of such programming services.

Want 'great' exec

"Amy's great talent has been identifying new businesses and structuring them from a business-development and an affiliate-relations point of view," Burke said. "She would continue what she's been doing, but we would [also] have someone whose got 20 years of experience running cable networks."

Asked how long the search has been going on, Burke said, "We've been doing it for long time … We want that person to be great."