Five Questions for Geraldine Laybourne

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Geraldine Laybourne is chairman and CEO of Oxygen Media, which was founded in 1998. The predominantly female owned-and-operated company and its Oxygen network, available in 56 million households, is aimed at younger women. Laybourne also spent 16 years at Nickelodeon, an network aimed at entertaining children. Editor-in-chief Tom Steinert-Threlkeld spoke with Laybourne at Oxygen's headquarters, above the Chelsea Market in New York City.

MCN: What is the problem with a la carte pricing?

Geraldine Laybourne: I’m trying to think of any cable network that actually would exist today if we had a la carte pricing to begin with, because the cable industry as a whole figured out this great economic way of spreading the pain so that new brands could emerge.

Nobody would have subscribed to Nickelodeon in the beginning; nobody would have subscribed to Discovery [Channel] in the beginning. You couldn’t get enough critical mass to ever start creating anything. If I had to follow an a la carte model with Oxygen, I never would have been able to raise the private-equity money to start something new.

People don’t know what they want until they see it. And if I were in an a la carte world two years ago, I never would have subscribed to Bravo. But I would be deeply missing Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.’

MCN: If a la carte pricing came to pass, would it kill Oxygen?

GL: It would kill many, many, many networks and it certainly would be tougher on the independents.

The big problem with this is: What happens right now is that cable networks don’t spend very much money marketing themselves. They spend most of their money on the creation of original programming or the acquisition of really great movies or on the acquisition of really great series.

The balance for us is we probably spend 20% on marketing and 80% on programming. We would have to flip that. Our product would be lesser, less good.

MCN: How do you feel about family tiers of programming?

GL: Family tiers of programming are pretty scary. It’s scary because it opens the door to a la carte.

My experience is, with the V-chip and other things, is that parents don’t really avail themselves of what is already there.

There is a much better system than the family tier for parents right now that doesn’t disrupt the entire family.

It’s a very easy thing to do. It’s very easy to set your V-chip, it’s very easy to set parental controls, it’s very easy to talk to your cable operator and get blocked that stuff that you don’t want to have.

MCN: Under what circumstances would Oxygen be willing to be on a family tier?

GL: If a family tier is all kids programming, it wouldn’t really be the right place for us. If it’s a place where networks that generally follow broadcast standards go, we certainly belong there.

MCN: What is the right way to deal with indecent programming on cable TV?

GL: There are technological solutions that are right there and are easy to use.

My experience with whenever the government gets involved and legislates something, like retransmission content, that there are consequences that are unintended that go on for decades. The whole consolidation of the media space came out of retransmission consent.

It’s not good for consumers, so my prayer is that parents really get involved with their kids’ TV, that they talk about it; that they talk about family values; that they talk about why they don’t like certain things and that they use the technology that is readily available.