In CableFAX Daily’s Aug Roundtable, independent programmers waxed about what the landscape is like for them now—including what the FCC’s new program carriage rules could mean as well as Comcast’s commitment to launch more indie nets as part of its NBCU deal. Here are a few more topics, including retrans, that we put forth to our panelists: Entertainment Studios chmn/CEO Byron Allen, HDNet CEO Mark Cuban, HSN, Inc CEO Mindy Grossman and Tennis Channel chmn/CEO Ken Solomon.
What are the advantages to being independent?
Mark Cuban: From a business perspective, right now, none. From a consumer perspective, independents like HDNet can have an independent voice. Cable networks have become so predictable and driven by earnings per share. Independently owned and operated networks have far more flexibility and can be more creative that the big media driven networks
Byron Allen: We produce and own all our content 100%. We have no content rights encumbrances, which enables us to provide our distributors quality content with 100% authentication rights and VOD worldwide. We have nearly 30 shows in syndication on broadcast television stations, and we’re able to tell over 25mln people per week about our cable networks, and on which platforms you can find them.
Mindy Grossman: As a leader in transactional innovation, we are constantly exploring new opportunities in today’s ever-changing media landscape. Our independence translates into a high degree of agility and flexibility, so we can take advantage of opportunities that present themselves. That’s a key competitive advantage in the worlds of both media and commerce.
Ken Solomon: Brand approach and flexibility. Being independent allows us to create a brand that’s beholden to nothing but our viewers and this particular passion category. When you’re a huge, vertically integrated network, logically the needs of the parent corporation often dictate decisions that weaken the brand mission. Another big advantage is flexibility. We enjoy the fact that we’re nimble enough to turn around strategic initiatives and viewer feedback amazingly quickly, as opposed to running ideas up a multilevel flagpole and not getting the final go-ahead until months later.
There have been a few different associations for independent programmers over the years. Are you currently active in any of these? Do you see a need for a separate group for independents?
Cuban: We have been in the past, but these groups have fallen apart either because the network members go out of business or they are afraid that any participation could injure their ability to get carriage
Solomon: While we’re certainly supportive, we haven’t actively been a part of the various independent programming associations. That’s not any sort of reflection on them or their missions—much of which I’m sure is in line with what we hope for in this business. Our position is simply unique and thus the strategy is custom crafted for Tennis Channel. As an independent network dedicated to a live, professional sport, which we substantively represent wholly on the air, that is also a robust lifestyle category evenly balanced between men and women, we are unique in the industry. Our unique circumstance has led us to go it alone.
Allen: Yes, we are actively involved in causes that support independent programmers. But I’m not concerned because some of the best work has come from independents. It takes creativity and innovation to cut through all the branding of the large media conglomerates, and if you notice throughout history, our bosses, the subscribers, tend to gravitate towards the independents for fresh new ideas. With over-the-top opportunities, the independents will thrive.
Grossman: The combination of our robust content development and our strong affiliate team has resulted in solid partnerships with our distributors in which everyone benefits. So we’ve never really given much thought to joining an independent group. We now deliver HSN to more than 96 million households, and we continue to seek opportunities to reach and delight new viewers and customers.
Do you support retransmission consent reform?
Allen: No, I do believe broadcasters provide valuable content, and cable operators are very lucky they were able to go so long without paying for it. MVPDs should count their lucky stars.
Solomon: We do support retransmission consent reform, in order to ensure the survival of a broad diversity of independent voices in the media marketplace. The current model is outdated and threatens the very existence of independent programming networks. We’d like to see a limitation on the ability of large broadcasters to bundle their other services within their retransmission consent agreements.
Cuban: I don’t have a position on it at this time.
Grossman: HSN’s distribution model is not currently dependent on the full-power broadcast television construct. So, while we understand both sides of the issue, at this time, we really have no formal position.