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February 28, 2013

Lighting TheBlaze—Costantini Talks About Carriage Campaign
By Amy Maclean


     Lynne Costantini

After consulting for Glenn Beck’s TheBlaze for a year, Lynne Costantini made the move Friday to full-time employee as President of Business Development. She has been helping TheBlaze make its shift from a subscription Internet channel to a linear network, orchestrating DISH’s launch of the net last fall. Now, the channel is rolling out a campaign urging Beck fans to push Comcast, DirecTV, Time Warner Cable and other MVPDs for carriage. Costantini has spent time on both side of the negotiations table, first at Time Warner Cable and then Scripps Networks Interactive. She led Scripps through what Scripps President John Lansing called the “most challenging distribution negotiations” in company history. He was referring to 2010’s renewal talks with Cablevision in which Food and HGTV went dark on the MSO for about 3 weeks. Costantini chatted with us this week about her job finding carriage for an independent network at a time when operators have been particularly vocal about programming costs.
 
Should we view your move to full-time and the launch of GetTheBlaze.com as a sign you’ll be ratcheting up the pressure on MVPDs to launch the channel?
 
We’ve been out to see all the distributors and have had very productive conversations. One thing we hear is ‘don’t bring me a great sizzle reel, don’t bring me a great idea, bring me a network with a built-in audience online…’ We have a built-in audience. We have a very passionate and loyal audience. The GetTheBlaze campaign illustrates to the industry that this is an audience that will be engaged, drive ratings and is very interested in having the programming on television—not just DISH.
 
These types of campaigns are common. Some are more aggressive—urging people to ‘bug’ their MVPDs a lot—while others are more informative. Where do you fall on that scale?
 
I’d say we’re right in the middle. We don’t want to be a thorn in distributor’s sides. That’s not a great way to start a relationship. But we do want to signal to the industry that there is an audience here. It’s not just a good idea, but there is an audience that wants the network...
 
A couple of days after launching the campaign, what’s the feedback? There have been tens of thousands of calls and emails even in just the first 24 hours. If you look at any operator’s Facebook page, I think you’ll see that 90% of the activity is about adding TheBlaze. [TheBlaze shared a quote from K2 Marketing, who is working on the campaign, saying that the support is the largest it has seen in 10 years for a new network.]
 
Distributors are always concerned about a network’s content being available online. You have a network that has done well on the Internet and has a pretty big subscriber base (300K subs), but you continue to have that Web presence. Are operators reticent about this? Why give bandwidth space and take on additional programming expenses when they can just point those customers who are interested to the Website?
 
I question this having been on the operator side. Why would an operator want to send their customers to someone else’s platform? Especially when they’re looking to the operator, who is the bundler of great content, to provide them with more content. That’s kind of a curiosity to me just from a customer care perspective. But our experience of having launched on DISH has been that those 2 platforms can live side by side and neither is cannibalizing the other. Yes, we are having those discussions with operators. Some have expressed those concerns. Some actually see it as a great value proposition for them. You get a bundle and you pay a certain amount for a bundle, and you can get TheBlaze as a part of that bundle and not for an extra charge of $9.99/month. Going forward, we will absolutely have those discussions with distributors. We’ll listen to what they have to say and figure out how we move forward. But we have no plans to shut down the direct-to-consumer subscription plan for Glenn Beck content.
 
Have you done anything special or do you have anything in the works when it comes to affiliate relations initiative in local markets?
 
Glenn has a local presence in 400 markets, some of which are stronger than others. There are a lot of things we can do—leveraging our radio, media access and also the live events that Glenn does and the other talent on the network. We have proposed doing some things on radio to help local cable operators’ businesses, whether it’s their video or high-speed data or small-to-medium business enterprise initiatives or home security... [We also could have] other kinds of marketing using out Web and social media platforms.
 
Is there interest? Some people say, ‘Oh, I love Glenn Beck.’ Others say, ‘I hate Glenn Beck…’ There are such passionate opinions. Is there a concern from distributors that some of their customers may love Glenn Beck and TheBlaze, but others could be totally turned off?
 
It’s really not a concern at all. Look at the Oprah Winfrey effect. She’d have a book club, talk about a book and it would hit the bestseller list. Glenn has the ability to do the exact same thing and has done so with a lot of books and other things he promotes. It’s a very big audience, and I don’t think people appreciate how large it is. When he was on Fox News, that was 3 million a week.


 
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