Issue-oriented programming, even when it doesn't generate huge ratings, can help a network build its brand and assist operators in currying favor with local officials, according to several network executives at the National Show Monday.
"It makes really good business sense," said Dan Davids, general manager of The History Channel — which runs the "Save Our History" campaign — during the panel "Good 'n' Plenty: Cable's Sweet Spot in Programming."
Several officials said that local tie-ins and promotions related to cause-oriented programming often have a positive ripple effect with town officials, creating good will when local ops seek franchise renewals.
During the session, network officials denied that they ran cause-oriented programming just as a way to spark controversy.
"It's a core element of our programming," said Gary Levine, executive vice president of original programming for Showtime. "We're not ratings-driven, we're impact-driven."
Lifetime Television president Carole Black noted that at her network — which has championed battling breast-cancer and fighting domestic violence — "advocacy is such a great part of what we do." But programs related to those causes must be entertaining, she added.
Court TV not only has several public-affairs initiatives, but two of its original movies have dealt with advocacy issues. With regard to that type of programming, Court TV chairman Henry Schleiff said, "The upside in that equation is it's good for the brand."
Any local tie-in to cause-oriented network initiatives is "not very costly, but it can be very impactful," he later added.
Susan Packard, president of Scripps Networks New Ventures, said issue-oriented programming also tends to get networks lots of press attention. "The press machine gets going when these get put on the air," she said.
Several panelists conceded that issues-oriented programming, like some documentaries, don't score big ratings, but they air them anyway.
"Some things you do you know are not going to get a great number," Black said. "You just bite the bullet. In the overall scheme of things, you will wind up getting more viewers."