Working on the original ad sales team at Turner, John Barbera was involved in or witnessed some hard-core selling, to say the least-sometimes led by the pre-eminent cable salesman, Ted Turner.
Among the tactics: Turner salespeople would bypass agency executives and call directly on advertisers-somewhat of a taboo in the early 1980s. But they got results, and that provided great training for Mr. Barbera, who became president of Turner Broadcasting Sales in 1990. He left Turner in 1994, to pursue consulting ventures through his own company, J.B. Communications.
Now, Mr. Barbera is bringing his experience to cable's Odyssey Channel, as exec VP-advertising sales. Odyssey, being relaunched out of interfaith programming service VISN, has attracted such major partners with a focus on family programming as Hallmark Entertainment and Jim Henson Co.
Odyssey's revamp comes along at a great time for advertisers, according to Mr. Barbera. Over the course of 1998, major advertisers have begun to push for more family-oriented TV programming. Among those are Johnson & Johnson and Ford Motor Co., which have banded together with other marketers under a loose consortium called the Forum for Responsible Advertisers.
"The pendulum has swung too far," Mr. Barbera said, referring to violence-oriented TV programming. "There is a lot of conflict that resolves itself only through violence. But the whole Henson philosophy, for instance, is that conflict doesn't have to have a violent ending."
The revamped Odyssey will differ from other purveyors of family entertainment-among other new networks touting family-oriented entertainment are the Fox Family Channel and Pax TV-because most of its prime-time programming will be movies and miniseries, programming that already has a good track record.
Since many of these shows have had limited exposure on the networks, this gives them added value on Odyssey, the executive said.
"The good news is that out-of-pocket costs aren't bad for advertisers," Mr. Barbera said. "If we average a 1.0 rating with these movies, [an advertiser] can afford to buy and grow with us."
For advertisers, there also are plans for Odyssey to add the marketing elements of licensing and promotion to the mix.
Odyssey is expected to be relaunched this spring, with about 29 million subscribers, which the cable net hopes to grow to 50 million in three years.
Though the cable industry has changed radically from its initial ad sales days, the Odyssey launch does exhibit some similarities with the launch of Turner's WTBS.
"The first thing Ted did was to take the high road with programming, such as Jacques Cousteau and [programming material] from the Audubon Society," Mr. Barbera said.
He also had the same philosophy about reruns.
As Mr. Barbera relates a Turner quote: "It's better to run a good old show than