Time Warner Cable executive Fred Dressler will take a seat on the bench as the operator's chief programming-rights negotiator when he retires at the end of the year.
Known to network affiliate-sales executives as a tough negotiator, Time Warner's executive vice president of programming will hand his baton to the cable operator's relatively unknown vice president of programming, Melinda Witmer, when he officially leaves on Jan. 1.
Time Warner Cable's other chief programming buyer, Lynne Costantini, will take the newly created position of senior vice president and chief business-affairs officer.
Costantini, whom many in the industry believed was being groomed as Dressler's replacement, had previously been responsible for negotiating the company's deals to for wirelesss, broadband and other new-platform content as senior vice president of programming.
She will now work closely with the advanced technology and new product development groups in developing a business strategy and executing transactions with a wide range of business partners.
Both Costantini and Witmer will report to Time Warner Cable's senior executive vice president, Rob Marcus.
In an internal memo announcing the impending retirement, Marcus referred to Dressler as “the dean of MSO programming executives” who championed “unique content and niche programming throughout his tenure.”
Indeed, Dressler is known for taking a hard stance on programming deals — particularly with regard to high priced-sports networks.
“He demanded and often got a very good deal from programmers using a style that was not knee-jerk but thought-out, strategic and oftentimes drawn out on purpose, to the benefit of Time Warner,” said an affiliate-sales executive with a nationally distributed network.
Dressler was also at the forefront of the launch of several cable networks, including E! Entertainment Television in the 1980s; video-on-demand and pay-per-view purveyor In Demand; and more recently, SportsNet New York, the regional sports network owned by the New York Mets, Time Warner Cable and Comcast Corp.
In Demand Networks president and CEO Rob Jacobson called Dressler's passion and insight into the cable business “unparalleled” and working with him a “delight.”
But Dressler may most be remembered as the driving force behind Time Warner's 2003 launch of a digital sports tier, which include such networks as College Sports Television, NBA TV and The Tennis Channel. The tiers, which exclude ESPN and the regional sports networks, have failed to draw a sizable audience, averaging penetration levels of just 10% to 20%.
Nevertheless, Kagan Associates analyst John Mansell said that Dressler's push for sports tiers was ahead of its time. “I think that they are going to have to catch on for cable operators to continue to be economically viable long-term when you look at all the new sports services coming on board,” he said. “The current economic model is not sustainable and something has to change.”