Nets: Consolidation Means Op Leverage


Chicago -- Faced with the continuing specter of
consolidation in the cable-TV industry, executives from a handful of cable networks
converged on a panel at the National Show here last week to discuss a host of hot topics
facing programmers.

Issues bandied about included the importance of network
branding, the challenges of the digital tier and the emerging role of the Internet.

"Consolidation is a euphemism for saying that
operators have leverage," Courtroom Television Network president and CEO Henry
Schleiff said, only half-kiddingly. "The importance of branding is even more critical
now with the limited analog real estate."

Not to be outdone with the witty one-liner, Sundance
Channel president and chief operating officer Larry Aidem added, "As Martha Stewart
likes to say, 'If you don't gotta brand, you don't got s___.'"

Sundance has used such themes as "the best of new
independent film" -- a jab at rival The Independent Film Channel's decision to run
some older films on its schedule -- and the "24-hour film channel" in branding

Aidem also has the distinct advantage of being able to
leverage the equity of the more established namesake film festival and the fame of
festival founder Robert Redford.

USA Networks Inc. president of operations Stephen Brenner
said he hasn't bought into the necessity of network branding. "People check out
channels, but ultimately, they come for a particular show," he said.

Brenner likened USA Network to the broadcast networks,
which traditionally have been identified through their hit shows.

MTV Networks president and COO Mark Rosenthal, the panel's
moderator, also addressed how programming will be developed for the new digital tiers that
programmers are adding to their offerings and whether networks will provide original

Home & Garden Television COO Susan Packard said
Do-It-Yourself, which is set to launch this year, will have considerable original content.

"Slapdash, repackaged programming on digital tiers is
not going to work. Consumers will see through it," Aidem said.

"Digital platforms give us a place to give the more
intellectual segment of our viewership more analytical fare, which is not a terribly
costly proposition," Schleiff said.

Finally, the panelists were enthusiastic about the
potential of the Internet in their future efforts.

Brenner, whose company also owns Sci-Fi Channel, said:
"Our Sci-Fi site is more than just a brand extension -- it stands on its own merits
as a destination."

"Our current online split is between promotional use
and providing incremental information that our viewers demand," Schleiff said about
Court TV's Web strategy.