Turns out we weren’t the only ones captivated by Time Warner Cable and Fox’s intense negotiations at the end of ’09. After three sleepless days and sleepless night, negotiations continued on Fox’s lot. Then Danny DeVito happened by. “He poked his head into the conference room because he wanted to see the action of a big negotiation,” Time Warner Cable chief programming officer Melinda Witmer relayed during the WICT conference Mon. “‘Wow! This is what a negotiation looks like awesome!’ We were stunned.”
Reflecting on advice she’s received over the years, Witmer said something the late Fred Dressler once said was “utterly transforming” for her. It was her first solo flight leading a major programming negotiation. TWC’s former chief programming head Dressler told her not to be nervous, trust herself, but “most importantly, just make it up. Believe me, the other guy has no ideas what he’s doing either.”
“I was astonished to hear this iconic negotiator tell me that he never knew exactly what he was doing,” Witmer said, explaining that he gave her more confidence and a sense of freedom.
At another WICT panel, Cox vp, content acquisition Kathy Payne and MTVN evp, content distribution & marketing Denise Denson talked about the art of the deal. Denson said a renewal is a 9-month process for MTVN, with the first 3 months spent internally on expectations and the outlook as well as on a legal draft. Something MTVN now does is spend a significant amount of time talking about what it will do if no deal gets done—something that wasn’t in its plan 5 years ago, she said.
Both acknowledged that it’s become harder to get deals done because they are more complicated. And sometimes, the arguments are spent on details that never end up mattering much. When a deal is done, it sounds like it is rare anyone walks away from the table feeling like a winner immediately.
“I don’t know if I ever finish a deal and thing it’s just a great deal,” said Payne. “You always look at it and wish you’d gotten more. Some deals have more remorse than others. But right when you do it, you always look at what you didn’t get. There are always moments along the way that get disagreeable.”
But she cautioned that not all deals will be high profile, contentious disputes. “In the end, customers think it’s just a fight between 2 big companies,” Payne said. “I think we need to do our best to come to terms and be creative.”