PRESIDENT AND CEO
RAINBOW MEDIA HOLDINGS LLC
ASK JOSH SAPAN WHY HE DESERVES THIS YEAR’S VANGUARD
Award for Programmers and he replies with characteristic modesty
and humor, offering up a quote from Billy Crystal: “If you hang around
the store long enough, they start giving you things.”
Or more accurately in Sapan’s case, a lot of awards, which have included
an earlier Vanguard Award for Marketing, the CTAM GrandTAM
Award, the Association of Cable Communications President’s Award, a
PROMAX Brand Builder Award, and the CTAM Chairman’s award.
“Josh has demonstrated consistent creativity and innovation during
his two decades at Rainbow, where he’s developed and nurtured
some of cable’s most popular networks, including AMC, WE TV, IFC
and Bravo,” Cablevision Systems chief operating officer Tom Rutledge
said. “His passion for independent film and high quality programming,
along with his entrepreneurial mind-set, [have defined] his
leadership style and have enabled him to create exciting multiplatform
business opportunities for our industry.”
That passion for independent film and TV programming goes back
to Sapan’s youth and has defined much of his career. After studying
broadcasting and film at the University of Wisconsin, he held a number
of industry jobs in the 1970s that ranged from running an indie movie
house to working for production companies and cable systems.
One of his employers, TelePrompTer Manhattan, which is today part
of Time Warner Cable, had a stake in fledgling pay TV network Showtime,
which Sapan joined in 1979. After holding a number of different
positions at Showtime for the next eight years, he landed a job at Cablevision’s
Rainbow programming unit as president of AMC and Bravo
in 1987. Their movie and arts programming fit in perfectly with his
long-standing love of film.
What really attracted him to the place and kept him there for the next
22-plus years though, was the company’s entrepreneurial style.
“I really admired the entrepreneurial nature of Cablevision and
Rainbow,” Sapan said. “[Cablevision founder and chairman] Chuck
Dolan, [CEO] Jim Dolan and now Tom Rutledge really support innovation
and risk-taking. They’ve created a climate for everything we’ve
Sapan was promoted to Rainbow’s COO in 1991 and became CEO in
1995. He has established the company as an innovator in both technology
Rainbow became an early player in video on demand, launching
Mag Rack in 2001, and Sapan spearheaded the creation of the creation
of Voom HD Networks in 2005.
The company’s IFC Films unit also broke new ground by creating
a new distribution for model for independent films, simultaneously
releasing films in both theaters and on cable’s transactional VOD.
“When we first did it, it was considered heretical in the film exhibition
business. But it has since worked very well, and we now distribute
about 100 films a year both theatrically and on transactional VOD,”
Sapan’s biggest success has probably been the company’s push into
original programming, which greatly increased Bravo’s popularity before
it was sold to NBC Universal in 2000. Originals have also boosted
the ratings and profile of AMC, WE, IFC and more recently the Sundance
Channel, which Rainbow acquired in 2008.
Following the success of such originals as Queer Eye for the Straight
Guy on Bravo, Rainbow expanded the non-fiction programming on
WE, with such hits has Bridezillas, and then pushed into original dramas
on AMC with Mad Men and Breaking Bad, both of which have
Rainbow is now expanding original series on both IFC and Sundance.
“At IFC, we are focusing very significantly on original programming,
and in primetime you will increasingly find originals that are synonymous
with the independent spirit that embodies the channel,” he said.
Sapan gives much credit for their programming success to Rainbow
Entertainment Services chief operating officer Ed Carroll and the team
they’ve assembled to run the channels. “Ed is really the heart and soul
of our original programming,” Sapan said.
Sapan’s fingerprints and his long experience in cable marketing are
readily apparent in how the new programming has helped sharply define the channel’s brands and target audiences.
At AMC, for example, “we wanted to maintain the sort of cinematic
quality and the same level of storytelling in our originals as the great
storytelling and cinematic quality you find in the best movies,” he
Looking forward, Sapan said that Rainbow is working to expand
its programming success internationally. “Sundance is now carried
around the globe, as is WE TV, and that is a new and important development
for us in the last 18 months,” he noted.