Schiffman Starts Nat Geo 'Balancing Act'


For Steve Schiffman, National Geographic Channel's new executive vice president of marketing and new media, job one is to build more brand identity into the network and to leverage content in other directions — perhaps through video-on-demand.

That's "a balancing act," according to Schiffman, whose hiring was announced on Aug. 12.

After spending the past three years in the same role at The Weather Channel, Schiffman is now part of a network that started life 19 months ago with 10 million subscribers, and headed into August approaching 35 million households.

"What's really important is creating a consistency of message across different target groups — consumers, affiliates, advertisers, internal associates," said Schiffman. "One thing I've seen in the cable industry is that networks struggle with getting their message among those multitudes.

"Everyone must understand the message. Here, you want to get across the channel's imagery and make it relevant to consumers. That's an imperative. At the same time, though, you want to bring a youthful, contemporary new-millennium sense to everyone's table."

One avenue Schiffman wants to tap early on in his NGC tenure is appointment viewing. At TWC, he helped fashion such signature shows as Your Weather Today, Evening Edition
and other multi-hour program blocks, as well as the weekly magazine series Atmospheres.

He's got one appointment prospect in the nightly newscast National Geographic Today, which runs at 7 and 10 p.m. EDT. He'll devote much of his time to further developing and promoting it.

VOD is likely the first priority in the new-services component of Schiffman's duties, with some type of online-content play second on the agenda. "There's a staggering richness of content to work from," Schiffman said.

Schiffman maintains that on-demand opportunities are a natural for NGC, but he's not joining the network with a specific online strategy in mind. Under his watch at TWC, the Web site became a separate revenue-producing machine, with funds coming from both advertising and subscription opportunities. New media's strategic place doesn't appear clear cut at NGC.

"The role here might be a support mechanism for both programming and the brand, not necessarily a profit center. We need to figure it out," he said.

Schiffman launched his cable career in 1999 with TWC, after a long run in strategic-marketing roles with several companies, including the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing, Kraft Foods Inc. and ad agency Ketchum/Mandabach and Simms.

Schiffman's successor at TWC is Wonya Lucas.