Looking to "chart her own course," E!
Entertainment Television acting president Fran Shea hopes to build on the legacy and
momentum left by outgoing president Lee Masters while aggressively positioning the
company's two networks for the future.
Shea, who is replacing Masters on Jan. 1, takes over a
network -- on an acting basis for now for personal reasons -- that has recently gained
strength both on the ratings and distribution side. An eight-year veteran of E!, the
former senior vice president of programming has been responsible for much of the
Shea was instrumental in the development of E!'s
signature primetime shows, including Talk Soup, E! News Daily and the Howard
Stern Show -- all of which have helped increase E!'s ratings nearly 60 percent in
the third quarter, according to Nielsen Media Research.
"Fran Shea has been a key architect in the development
and success of E!, and we are pleased to be recognizing her achievements and gaining the
benefit of her vision for the future," said Brian Roberts, president of E!
Entertainment Television in a prepared statement.
"The plan was to get primetime in great shape, and
we've done that," Shea said. "I'm excited about building up what
we've begun and to continue building on what's working."
Shea said she is "committed" to the
network's top position despite insisting on the title of acting president. Recently
returning from maternity leave, Shea said she will wait about six months before
determining whether to officially remove the title's qualifier.
Along with overseeing programming, Shea said she will also
focus on increasing analog distribution for both E! Entertainment and its fledgling sister
service, Style. E! has added 8 million subscribers in 1998, reaching the 50 million mark.
Style, which launched in October, currently has 3 million subs, with commitments to push
it to 5 million by the end of the year.
Cable sources have said E! is willing to pay launch fees of
$5 to $7 per subscriber to obtain analog carriage for Style -- a difficult task in the
current channel-locked environment. Although industry observers feel E! is fighting an
uphill battle for Style distribution, Shea believes there's still room to gain analog
Many MSO executives feel Style is better suited to a
digital tier, and some observers feel E! lacks the clout to launch an analog service at
"We've always heard about the death of analog and
that stand-alone networks can't make it, but we believe that there are still some
analog subscribers out there," she said.
Industry reaction to Shea's appointment was mostly
positive, although many executives admitted knowing little about her. No operator,
however, said they were concerned about the uncertainty of Shea's tenure as
One top 10 MSO programming executive said keeping the
president position in house is a major advantage for E!.
"I liked Lee because he did a great job, so having
someone who knows that business intimately is always a plus for the company," the
executive said. "If they feel [the candidate] is competent enough to run the company,
then it's a pretty good move."
While some operators hope Shea can continue the forward
progress of the channel, others are hoping that the new president will further improve
relations with operators.
"It's a good product and our customers like the
programs, but I think that they need to do more collaborating with operators and provide
more marketing support," said Pam Burton, director of marketing for Prime Cable.
"They're headed in the right direction, but they need to get closer to the