Programmers Tout Issue-Oriented Fare


Chicago -- Issue-oriented programming, even when it doesn't generate huge
ratings, can help a network to build its brand and assist operators in currying
favor with local officials, according to several network executives Monday at
the National Show here.

"It makes really good business sense," said Dan Davids, general manager of
The History Channel -- which runs the "Save Our History" campaign -- during a
panel titled, "Good `n Plenty: Cable's Sweet Spot in Programming."

Several officials said local tie-ins and promotions relating to
cause-oriented programming could have a positive ripple effect with town
officials, creating goodwill when local ops seek franchise renewals.

During the session, network officials denied that they air 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 Networks Inc. "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 she added that the
programming relating to those causes has to be entertaining.

Courtroom Television Network not only has several public-affairs initiatives,
but two of its original movies have dealt with advocacy issues.

Regarding that type of programming, Court TV chairman Henry Schleiff said,
"The upside in that equation is that it's good for the brand." He later added
that any local tie-in to cause-oriented network initiatives is "not very costly,
but it can be very impactful."

Susan Packard, president of Scripps Networks New Ventures, said
issue-oriented programming also tends to get lots of press attention for
networks. "The press machine gets going when these get put on the air," she

Several panelists conceded that issues-oriented programming, like some
documentaries, won'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."