Transforming a Cable Network's Revenue Model

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Back in the heady days of 1998, the U.S. economy had an unmistakable theme song: the Rolling Stones' Start Me Up. MBA candidates grappled with whether to go to class or work on a business plan, and the Internet seemed like the quickest avenue to wealth since a California stream 150 years before.

It was during that rush that ad veteran Hanna Gryncwajg (pronounced GRINS-wahg) embarked on what she says felt like a start-up: executing the plan to turn the Bravo TV network into being fully ad-supported. Up to that point, the cable outlet operated by Rainbow Media Holdings, a joint venture of Cablevision Systems and NBC, had moved gradually from commercial-free to limited sponsorships to finally Ms. Gryncwajg's fully ad-supported model.

Revenue ramp-up
Since the transformation began in the fourth quarter of 1998, Bravo's ad revenue has risen steadily from $22.2 million in 1999 to $52 million in 2001, according to Taylor Nelson Sofres' CMR. And she's expanded Bravo's pool of advertisers each year. For example, Bravo -- a highbrow network devoted to the craft of film and entertainment -- at first had movie companies plugging modest, independent films. Now, top studios are touting their blockbuster fare.

"When I first started, it was mostly the art and independent films," says Ms. Gryncwajg, Bravo's senior vice president for ad sales. "Since that time, we've proved to the film community that the folks who watch Bravo are just, in general, enthusiasts of all genres of film."

70 million homes
Meanwhile, Bravo's distribution has grown from 34 million homes in 1998 to a projected 70 million by the end of this year. Still, Bravo remains unabashedly a niche network that tries to hone in on an upscale, well-educated audience with considerable spending power. That's helped differentiate it from competitor A&E Television Networks' A&E, which has taken steps to gain more mass appeal. Bravo also has been careful with its entertainment programming not to delve into the tabloid areas that have been fertile ground for E!

Bravo has recently heightened its focus on developing original series, a favorite of advertisers in the cable space. And it has a signature show from which to build on: Inside the Actors Studio, where host James Lipton conducts interviews with stars about the nuances of acting.

"James Lipton has become sort of an icon in the business -- parodied on Saturday Night Live, critically acclaimed in The New York Times over and over again," Ms. Gryncwajg says. "Because of the success of that program, Bravo has looked to produce other originals."

Younger viewers
Ms. Gryncwajg says original shows help bring in some younger viewers -- particularly The It Factor, a reality show where young actors are followed as they try to break into the business. Bravo targets adults 25 to 54 years old; over time, it could become a player in the 18 to 49 age demographic that advertisers covet. Other originals are focused on the worlds of music and comedy.

Before her four-plus years at Turner Broadcasting System's entertainment division as vice president of sales for the Eastern region, the 47-year-old mother of a 2- and a 13-year-old worked at Viacom's VH1.

In the 1980s, the executive handled spot TV sales for more than a decade at Fox station KTTV in Los Angeles, where one of her tasks was selling time on Los Angeles Dodgers games.

Hours at improv clubs
But entertainment, especially a seat up front like Bravo aspires to do on air, trumps sports as a passion for Ms. Gryncwajg. In L.A., she spent hours at the famed improv club that spawned many famous comedians.

"I love the entertainment world and the behind-the-scenes of it and what makes it real vs. gossipy," she says.

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