Five Questions for Lauren Zalaznick

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Just before Valentine’s Day, Bravo launched what it called the “third phase” of converting the Trio analog arts and culture channel into a digital curator of American pop culture. The launch included a daily newsletter and broadband site, called Editor in chief Tom Steinert-Threlkeld, stranded by snow in Chicago, tried to catch up with Bravo president Lauren Zalaznick through instant messaging; and wound up with this edited e-mail exchange instead.

MCN: In announcing the new cultural filter you’re calling, you said “we will worship the high- and celebrate the low — without ever being stuck in the middle (-brow, that is).” Are you starting some kind of religion?

Lauren Zalaznick: Well, the Passion of the Bravo is a pretty palpable force around here. We are extreme advocates for fun, culture, relevance and bringing everyday information to people through the filter of all of those attributes and more. So maybe 'cult’ more than 'religion,’ with a little 'club that everyone can join’ thrown in.

MCN: Trio started off as a digital cable channel, first owned by the Canadian Broadcasting Co. Now it’s more or less split into three Internet channels:, and Is one of the founders going to claim that’s why it got its name in the first place?

LZ: Trio was absolutely an inherited name from the Canadian cable service. And yes, it stood for three things, I can’t remember what, frankly, because when I started working at Trio, it had already morphed into Trio: Popular Arts Television. Our first reinvention was to make each of those words and the graphic design itself relevant, which was the “Trio: Pop. Culture. TV.” incarnation — the friendly round red circle with the cool letters falling off the edge; with the upside-down exclamation point. We were truly a place that was meant to be bold, excited, exciting, and literally falling off the edges.

MCN: You also said you were thrilled that Trio has found its rightful place “on a new spectrum” and can start to grow again. In viewership, dollars of annual revenue or other useful metrics, talk about where it’s starting and how high you think it can go, in its new incarnation.

LZ: If you’re asking, as my mother and other people here at the network have asked, 'How is this thing supposed to make any money?’ that’s one question. But before that answer, you ask about how high, or big, we think it can go. As for that, the 'new spectrum’ is a horizon: We cannot ever get to the end, or we would never start new businesses. No one likes to see a ceiling when they look up. That’s why we like to go outside and talk about 'blue skies.’

For the short-term answer, it is an ad-supported daily newsletter, with tremendous value to advertisers who want to get to a growing core of smart, affluent, acquisitive consumers.

MCN: Part of the rollout is the daily electronic newsletter “curating” popular culture and delivering 'info-nuggets’ on stuff to buy, stuff to do and stuff to see. Sounds like Daily Candy. How will you be better, hipper, more engaging?

LZ: OK, well, there are a lot of cookbooks that have great recipes for apple pie, there are dozens of great options for daily newspapers, weekly and monthly magazines that cover basically the same news, and for that matter there are many, many TV stations that cover the same topics on a general basis; but through a sharp filter of certain sensibilities, a very precise editorial voice, you build up a level of trust, positive experience and subjective excellence with your consumer. We’re confident we’ll stand out.

MCN: Speaking of hip communications, are you going to get your IT department to allow you to get instant messaging through the NBCU firewall?

LZ: Hmmm … I IM’d early and often here [today] at 30 Rock, so I can’t rightly say why we’re “e-mailing” rather than “IM’ing.” That said, only the Tech Gods know for sure, but I do know that the Goddess of the Firewall that prohibits porn in these hallowed halls is alive and kickin’.