Retirement’s Erickson Aims High John Erickson knew just enough about cable to be dangerous. As a guy who had spent a quarter of a century developing massive retirement communities from his home base in Baltimore, he knew that the ranks of this country’s retirees were swelling with each passing year. He also knew these people were horribly underserved as television consumers. So he decided to do what any number of entrepreneurs secretly dream about doing; he launched a network. After an extended period of due diligence, including meetings with former MSO heads Glenn Jones and Leo Hindery, he decided his was the perfect idea for a cable network. Yeah, I know; stop me if you’ve heard this one before. But Erickson was not just some ordinary knucklehead with a half-baked idea. He was a man with deep pockets and a deeper understanding of a massive and getting-bigger-by-the- day audience. So when he set out to pitch his new network, he picked up a list of the top MSOs and figured he’d start at the top. That meant Comcast. Yeah, yeah, I know. But Erickson was nobody’s fool. He had a colleague who was an old friend of Steve Burke’s, and actually got Erickson a meeting; one that started out with Burke telling the still-wet-behind-the-ears programmer that if he wanted to talk analog distribution it was going to be a short meeting. Erickson laughed and told him, "It’s funny you should mention analog because that’s exactly what I’m going to talk to you about." Out of deference to their mutual friend, the Comcast COO heard him out. Thirty days later Retirement TV got the cable equivalent of a winning lottery ticket: daytime distribution in 9 million Comcast homes. So what was Erickson’s secret? He detailed it for me when we spoke last week: "I told Steve Burke that daytime television doesn’t really make people much money. It’s just something to do until 6 pm when 100 million television sets go on, and that’s what the industry focuses on. I also told him that 50% of the daytime viewers—35 million people—were retirees." He added: "I then asked him, what other audience do you have that is going to grow from 35 million to 80 million?" As for the analog vs. digital thing, Erickson said: "I told him that my audience lagged five years behind the rest of the population in the adoption of technology, and that 60% of them didn’t have a digital box yet." That Comcast launch, coupled with a high-profile session at this year’s Cable Show that included NCTA president Kyle McSlarrow and a bunch of very vocal retirees, has kick started Retirement TV’s sojourn into cableland. And while it is clear that Erickson has a sense of who this market is, and the power that they represent as consumers, the jury is still out as to whether or not he can offer them compelling programming on a consistent basis. After all, an appreciation for opera and being able to sing it are two very different things. What is clear, however, is that while John Erickson’s knowledge of cable is still only knee deep and his ability to speak it paper thin, he nevertheless possesses a deep understanding of seniors and a great passion for them as individuals. He told me, "Today in America there are two significant vices of ageism; one is our fixation on youth culture and against wrinkles—everyone is supposed to stay eternally young—and the other is our definition of self worth. The measure of how important you are is based on what you do and what you earn. So when you retire, cap your earnings and give up your title, society’s attitude is, you can’t be worth anything. That’s crazy."

The Daily



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