Sending Messages to CEOs

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TO CEO NO. 1: JUDY MCGRATH, MTV NETWORKS

Since Tom “I Want My MTV” Freston was ousted as Viacom CEO four months ago, the executive and staff ranks at MTV Networks itself have been thinning and its strategic footing has been constantly under examination.

Still, who wouldn’t want to be in Judy McGrath’s shoes?

Here’s one of the great brand stories of the United States’ third century. MTV remains synonymous with youth, music and television.

She’s one of the great personal stories in this industry, too, having grown into the CEO’s job, from being a copywriter when the music-video channel got started in 1981.

But music videos on TV are old hat. The iPod has become the synonym for digital music. YouTube has become the synonym for online video.

MTV’s Urge music service has not dented the iPod’s march. Neither the video-laden MTV Overdrive nor the purchases of iFilm and Atom Entertainment have dented the attention (or traffic) received by YouTube.

Interestingly, Viacom — the parent of MTV Networks — this month turned to a new startup, Joost, to deliver videos online from Comedy Central and MTV. Not iFilm or Atom.

The question for McGrath: How does she make her brand — two-thirds of which spells out TV — as synonymous with the Internet and its interactive entertainment?

If you were in her shoes, how would you get MTV to leapfrog the digital competition?

Write in to letters@multichannel.com. We’re prepared to publish, in a future column, the best strategies and tacts.

TO CEO NO. 2: HENRY SCHLEIFF, HALLMARK CHANNEL

Faced with a different dilemma is Henry Schleiff, new chief executive of the Hallmark Channel.

The family-friendly network often is placed in the nose-bleed zone of cable-system lineups and almost gave away its programming as it built up its distribution in the past five years.

Schleiff sees Hallmark as prime acquisition bait for the likes of CBS Corp., which could then make hay in retransmission negotiations with big cable operators like Comcast or Time Warner Cable.

“If Les Moonves picks up a billion dollars in asset value by making four telephone calls, I think Sumner Redstone gives him employee of the week,” he has said.

Hallmark now gets about a nickel a subscriber a month in license fees.

Schleiff argues CBS could easily get 20 or 25 cents. Each 10 cent hike is a $1 billion gain for the broadcaster.

How? 10 cents times 12 months times Hallmark’s reach of 80 million households is $100 million. Multiply that cash flow by 10 — a way to figure value — and you get to $1 billion.

CBS can use its muscle when operators are negotiating for CBS broadcast signals, in Schleiff’s view of the world. Get 50 cents for a CBS station in a given market; and another 15 cents for Hallmark. Or let operators say they didn’t pay 50 cents for CBS and take 20 or 25 cents instead for Hallmark.

CBS thinks it’s doing pretty well negotiating without Hallmark. Its number crunchers are well aware of the Hallmark Channel, and that it is a Top 10 cable network, by many measures. They also know Schleiff stands to get a big payout should the channel get sold.

They know the math and haven’t come calling. If you’re a big broadcaster and do sense a billion-dollar score, though, don’t hesitate to write (try firstnamelastname@hallmarkchannel.com).

TO CEO NO. 3: DAVID ZASLAV, DISCOVERY COMMUNICATIONS

He slips into town quietly. Within six weeks, he overhauls the management structure of Discovery Communications, easing out the only two names (Billy Campbell and Dawn McCall) who had been mentioned as potential candidates for his job.

Then, as if that wasn’t enough, he makes sure Discovery is on the front pages of daily newspapers across the country, two weeks later.

Of course, David Zaslav was not personally responsible for the archaeological investigation of Jesus’ bones in The Lost Tomb.Nor was he the centerpiece of the press conference stirring up the notion that there actually might have been some physical leftovers of the Son of God who came back from the dead and then went to Heaven.

But you almost get the sense that the timing couldn’t have been better. Let’s just get on with it. Put Discovery on everyone’s lips, two months after you walk in the door. It is, after all, your watch. No need to wait for Easter Weekend.

Got an idea of how David tops this? Send an e-mail to … Oh, you get the idea.

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