Angela Shapiro has her work cut out for her at ABC Family Channel. Last week, the president of ABC Daytime and Buena Vista Productions was named president of the cable network that The Walt Disney Co. acquired last fall for $5.2 billion.
Shapiro succeeds Maureen Smith, who tendered her resignation last week after a nearly two-year term as head of ABC Family, formerly Fox Family Channel.
Shapiro has a stellar track record in daytime programming, not only with ABC's popular soap operas, but with such shows as Live with Regis and Kelly
and The View,
all fare that targets women 18 to 49.
During a conference call with the press last week, Shapiro said she considers ABC Family as a "broad-based entertainment channel."
But that's a category that's proven extraordinarily tough to program, and has stymied the flagship ABC broadcast network, as well as some cable services.
Just ask Stephen Chao, a hit-maker at the Fox broadcast network who rolled snake eyes when he toiled at USA Network.
TBS Superstation and Turner Network Television have also struggled as executives have tried to create real brands for those broad-based services.
Guy McCarter, director of entertainment at ad agency OMD USA, succinctly described Shapiro's challenges at ABC Family.
"She really needs to establish the brand and what it stands for," McCarter said. "People are wondering how much repurposing ABC is going to do on ABC Family, and how much original. It's still a wait-and-see."
He credited Disney for looking in-house to find a solid executive who could set ABC Family on the right course.
"She's a strong personality," McCarter said. "Sending someone in who is strong internally sends the right signal to the industry."
Shapiro will report to Steve Bornstein, president of the ABC Television Group. Her responsibilities will include programming, finance, scheduling, marketing and research.
ABC Family's kids' block and affiliate relations remain under the purview of Anne Sweeney, president of the ABC Cable Networks Group.
Disney has already started to repurpose ABC shows on ABC Family, including According to Jim
Shapiro said she needs to find the right balance of off-network and original shows for the cable channel.
"It's my goal to bring in as many new programs as possible," she added.
A SYNERGY FAN
Shapiro described herself as "a huge believer in synergies," and said she envisions working with Buena Vista to develop shows for ABC Family.
In her old positions at ABC Daytime and Buena Visa, Shapiro said she "partnered well" with ABC primetime and news, and "came up with new formats, new ways of producing." She hopes to duplicate that at ABC Family.
"We see the channel as a broad-based entertainment channel with original as well as re-purposed programming on it," Shapiro said. "It's an opportunity for us, when you talk about multiplexing and cross-network opportunities, this will be able to take advantage of all of that, being a part of the Disney company.
"But [ABC Family] is for family, and the definition for family is broad. And we hope to service everyone within the family … some that are more adult, some that are more for kids."
After several difficult years — in which the network has been repositioned several times — ABC Family's ratings have been on an upswing.
In February, ABC Family posted a 0.8 rating in primetime, up 14 percent from a year ago, according to Nielsen Media Research.
"The network has come up this year," said Advanswers PHD senior vice president and executive director for broadcast Kathy Haesele. "The repurposing seems to work. But I'd like to see this network have some brand identity, and not just be a hodgepodge of whatever is left over [from ABC]."
Smith had been president of the family-oriented network since September 2000, when she was promoted to replace Rich Cronin. At that time, the service was still called Fox Family and was still owned by Haim Saban and Rupert Murdoch's News Corp.
IT'S RENEWAL TIME
Disney will revamp ABC Family's lineup during a delicate period. The cable network is now in the midst of contract-renewal talks with distributors.
"Let's give it six months and see what they do with it," said National Cable Television Cooperative senior vice president of programming Frank Hughes.
ABC Family's affiliation deals with a number of its key distributors — including Charter Communications Inc., Time Warner Cable and Cablevision Systems Corp. — have expired.
"We're still in conversations with those operators," an ABC Cable spokesman said.
A hearing on Disney's suit against EchoStar Communications Corp., which wants to drop ABC Family from its Dish Network, is set for April 8. But it may be delayed again, as both sides reportedly work on a settlement.
Shapiro, who joined ABC Daytime in 1995 as senior vice president of programming, was recently responsible for an unusual, multimillion-dollar deal with Revlon Inc. that went beyond product placement, weaving the beauty brand into an All My Children
Asked about incorporating this kind of "plot placement" into ABC Family, Shapiro said, "I think there's a definite opportunity there."