Cable Chiefs Dish on Controversy, Their Brands and Their Broadcast Rivals

'Jersey Shore' Based on Viacom Execs' Own Summers? OK, Probably Not

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Network execs spoke about the current state of creating and monetizing cable content at the Hollywood Radio & Television Society's semiannual Cable Chiefs Luncheon.
Network execs spoke about the current state of creating and monetizing cable content at the Hollywood Radio & Television Society's semiannual Cable Chiefs Luncheon.

LOS ANGELES (AdAge.com) -- Although many cable networks saw decreases in measured ad spending last year, it's still a good time to be in the dual-revenue stream business of cable TV.

On Tuesday, the Hollywood Radio & Television Society assembled a who's who of TV executives for its semiannual Cable Chiefs Luncheon, where top programmers from Turner, HBO, Rainbow Media, NBC Universal, MTV and Discovery all spoke on a panel about the current state of creating and monetizing cable content.

With so many name-brand cooks in the kitchen, it was often hard for many of the network execs to get a word in edgewise, but Ad Age was on hand to pull out a few choice soundbites from the proceedings.

On the advertising and scatter marketplace
Lauren Zalaznick, president, NBC Universal's women and lifestyle entertainment networks: "Everybody is waiting to see if the money is coming back. How healthy it is is relative to marketers' own health and consumers' willingness to connect to them and if they put out the right messaging. ... If the networks [ratings] are up, we do not want to leave ratings money on the table because advertisers are recalcitrant."

On the current MTV generation and 'Jersey Shore'
Van Toffler, president of MTV Networks' Music, Films and Logo Group: "Millennials are less cynical and more civic than Generation X." Do Viacom chiefs Sumner Redstone and Phillippe Dauman watch the controversial "Jersey Shore"? "Of course they do. It's based on their summers in Jersey. ... They like the show and they trust that we invest in properties, not just shows, so it hasn't been a problem."

On broadcast vs. cable
Steve Koonin, president, Turner Entertaiment Networks: "There's been a disproportion to the last three years, where 70% of the money is going to broadcast and 30% to cable when the eyeballs were the opposite. That's definitely leveled off this year."

On cable branding
Mr. Koonin, who represents TNT and TBS: "When you're named after the creator -- I'm talking about the creator of our networks, mind you -- to the consumer, that's alphabet soup, it doesn't mean anything. TNT acquired and created TV that touches your heart and mind, and TBS was a place where young people needed to decompress. So that's really what 'We know drama' and 'Very funny' were born out of. And TruTV was the first time in my history with the company where we could brand a network, and it was about this idea of taking people wherever they can't go."

On TLC's controversial lineup
Peter Liguori, chief operating of Discovery, which represents TLC, home of "Jon & Kate Plus 8" and "Little People Big World": "[TLC programming chief] Eileen O'Neill has done an unbelievable job in the last year. Every single [controversial] example, from Jon and Kate to 'Little People Big World' -- it all ends with some heart. We're able to identify characters that people can relate to."

On the competition
Michael Lombardo, president of programming and West Coast operations, HBO: "We don't just compete with pay-cable networks, there's also basic-cable like FX, AMC, TNT, USA. But all we can do is keep looking at what works for us, because when you take your eye off the ball and look at what the competition is doing, it is not the best strategy for us. My experience is there are more creators than ever with great stories to tell."

On their own viewing habits
Ms. Zalaznick: "I like 'Archer' [on FX]. Very quirky new show."
Mr. Toffler: '"Eastbound & Down' [on HBO], 'Weeds' and 'The Office.'"
Mr. Lombardo: "I don't know whether I want to be honest. ... I just got back from a four-day vacation, and I got home and watched an old 'Bachelor' episode on the DVR."
Mr. Liguori: "My 16-year-old daughter has control of the TV at home, so I watch a lot of Bravo."
Joshua Sapan, CEO of Rainbow Media: "I have a 14-year-old daughter who also watches a ton of Bravo, so I'm very well-studied in that schedule. That's not on my DVR, but it's what I've been exposed to."

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