Dolan, Sapan: The Brand’s the Thing

Industry Execs Say Tougher to Differentiate in Fragmented Market

New York – Cablevision Systems chief operating officer Kristin Dolan and AMC Networks CEO Josh Sapan said while branding is still of utmost importance for both cable systems and content companies, it is becoming harder to do in today’s fragmented TV market.

For Dolan, who helps lead a company with about 3 million customers in the New York metropolitan area, that branding effort started about four years ago with Cablevision’s transformation from a “monopoly” cable provider to a connectivity company with competition from wireline, wireless and online companies. As part of the Paley Center for Media’s Paley Dialog series here, Dolan said that one of Cablevision’s goals in the early stages of that transformation was to make the company more accessible to existing and potential customers.

While that involved softening the Cablevision logo – lighter colors and rounder fonts were incorporated into the Optimum brand – it also involved beefing up customer service and improving products and the customer experience with the company.

“You have to have a brand people like. People are willing to pay more and they are comfortable paying more if they get a better experience,” Dolan said. “The service equation brings it to a different level.”

For Sapan, who was Dolan’s official interviewer during the Paley discussion, branding is even tougher as shows turn up on several different platforms. The AMC chief jokingly said of his network: “We think we own at AMC any man’s descent into absolute despair,” with shows like Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead. But he conceded that viewers usually identify more with the programming than the network that airs it.

“Shows have become more dominant in people’s minds than channels,” Sapan said. “People want their show, and they’re accessible more rapidly with interfaces on cable systems and other platforms, so I think the place that houses them becomes essentially at risk.”

Sapan added the challenge is to ensure that the network builds off the buzz the show is generating, without intruding on the viewing experience.

“When you see advertising for Billions [on Showtime] or Vinyl [on HBO], you don’t even notice that much the name of the channel,” Sapan said. “The question is, how do you draft off of that? The answer is you do everything you can without getting in the way of the momentum of the show to make sure that the world knows it’s on AMC, Sundance or BBC America.”