It’s no secret that the cable industry is undergoing a seismic transformation. Unlike past spurts of rapid change, the impact is no longer limited to our country’s borders. Programmers are expanding abroad by leaps and bounds, and that trend promises to continue at an even faster pace in the years ahead.
What’s the motivating factor behind the widespread inclination to go global? “Globalization is critical for the expansion of our brands while also building an opportunity for the growth of international revenue," explained Rosalind Clay Carter, SVP, Human Resources at AETN.
While a new source for revenue growth is especially welcome during the recession, managing a global workforce poses particular challenges including sensitivity to cultural nuances, complex tax laws and ever-changing government regulations.
According to Sharon Denson, Director of International Remuneration for Turner Broadcasting System, “The effects of globalization have changed the HR landscape in ways that were unforeseen even 10 years ago. We knew then that ‘one size fits all’ was no longer a viable approach for structuring global HR solutions. Now ‘one size fits most’ is falling by the wayside too. Regional nuances have reshaped the HR playing field. They are increasingly changing the way contemporary offerings are planned, executed and communicated.”
Denson cites the Indian market as an example, where Turner’s traditional pay-and-benefits packages have given way to more innovative offerings that highlight a total-cost-to-company view that encompasses base and variable pay components, benefits, career development, global mobility and other perks.
Discovery Networks also has found that tailoring a menu of benefits and perks to suit the local culture goes a long way in attracting and keeping talented employees. As an example, Amy Girdwood, Discovery’s EVP, Global Human Resources Management, points to locally targeted enticements ranging from financial planning assistance and life/work counseling to free flu shots, massages and supermarket vouchers. One program, though, has proven popular throughout the UK, Europe and Asia, and the mechanics couldn’t be simpler. “Employees who purchase cable or satellite television service can receive a monthly reimbursement to help defray the cost," Girdwood said.
Devising competitive compensation programs tailored to the country is just one hurdle. India and several other burgeoning countries enjoy relatively “full employment” of skilled workers. Thus, competition for talent is fierce. In these cases, Denson said, “the power of brand image and work environment are often the deciding factors for a candidate.”
In many countries employers must contend not only with differences in recruiting “bait” but also in hiring procedures that differ greatly from those in the United States. For instance, although departing employees here typically give (or are given) between two and four weeks’ notice, said Amy Girdwood, “Internationally, especially the European Union, it is not unusual, even at the more junior level, for employees to have a three-month notice period, and that can extend up to 12 months for senior managers.”
How HR execs deal with such long notice periods varies, but it is common practice, Girdwood said, “to send managers on fully paid ‘garden leave’ with strict caveats about when they can start a new role. The bottom line, though, is that HR managers must take these timeframes into account not only when deciding whether to retain or release employees with borderline performance records, but also when managing expectations when it comes to getting replacements hired, in place and up to speed.”
Yet another hiring factor to be considered is what Girdwood calls “the very draconian laws on discrimination that exist in Europe. Interviewers are not allowed to ask questions that could be seen as seeking to discriminate against individuals on grounds of religion, sexual orientation, gender or – most recently – age.”
Under these laws, she said, “requesting information on years of experience in a role can very easily be construed as seeking to discriminate against an individual on the grounds of age, whether too young or too old.”
For that reason, the focus in Europe is on skills and deliverables rather than years in a role, and Girdwood said that fact translates into the need for a two-member interview team: a hiring manager who knows the needs of his or her department and an HR pro who can conduct the discussions in a way that ensures that “everything is kept legal and objective.”
Once staff is onboard and work is underway, the sheer magnitude of managing the day-to-day HR operations for a global workforce comes into play. Turner Broadcasting System approached that daunting task head-on by launching its Global Employee Portal. Dubbed snap (defined as “an effortless task or easy job”), the portal serves as the home of all of Turner’s HR content, the gateway for access to employee-facing systems via single sign-on, and the repository for employee self-service (ESS) and manager self-service (MSS) transactions including payroll, HR, benefits and expense functions.
Although snap has greatly streamlined Turner’s global HR processes (and earned the company’s HR Technology Team CTHRA’s 2010 HR Operational Efficiencies Award), the launching process was not as simple as the name implies. According to Matt Lehmann, Senior Manager of HR Technology, who led the effort, the major challenge the team faced at the outset was a mind-boggling number of web sites that had to be combined to function as a single entity. The task entailed far more than the physical transfer of data; it demanded savvy diplomacy. As Lehmann put it, “We had to work with each of the sites’ owners to ensure they understood the rationale for relinquishing their individual brands and rolling their functionality under the snap banner. By focusing on bettering the employee experience, we were able to overcome any initial reluctance.”
Beyond the usual employee considerations, companies doing business in worldwide locations must comply with a mind-boggling array of tax laws and government regulations. Discovery, said Girdwood, rises to that challenge in two ways. “We have an in-house tax organization with an international specialist, but in many markets we also rely on external legal firms to provide specific regulatory advice. This is the most cost-efficient way of ensuring that we do not fall afoul of legal restrictions.”
There is no doubt that doing business in foreign markets has its challenges. Fortunately, Girdwood said, HR execs have myriad resources to call on for help, ranging from seminars, webinars and conferences conducted by employment law firms and consulting groups to international equivalents of SHRM, including the UK’s Chartered Institute of Personnel & Development (CIPD). “Major consulting firms such as McKinsey publish international briefs on a regular basis,” she said, “and companies like IBIS offer insight and assistance on benefits and other HR issues. From an HR perspective, though two of the move valuable resources I’ve found are the Conference Board and the Corporate Leadership Council.”
All in all, the global marketplace provides an abundance of opportunities for cable programmers to expand their footprints to increase viewership and drive revenue. However, the key to success is a well thought out plan that embraces the unique attributes of the employment laws and employees in each location and leverages technology to streamline communications and operations.
(The Cable and Telecommunications Human Resources Association (CTHRA) has 1,600 members spanning 100 companies. For more information, visit CTHRA)

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