Panel: Cable nets need branding

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The importance of network branding and how to best take advantage of digital media were two of the topics discussed Thursday by a panel of cable network chiefs at the Hollywood Radio and Television Society's Newsmaker Luncheon, held at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza.

In an ever-changing world with multiple content platforms, the best way for cable networks to stay relevant is by having a brand, especially one that appeals to younger viewers, said Ted Harbert, president and CEO of Comcast Entertainment Group.

"Young people gravitate toward brands," he said. "Cable is in great shape if you have a brand that you support and can flourish."

Bonnie Hammer, president of USA Network and Sci Fi Channel, said it's important when creating a brand to make sure that that it comes organically from the programming already on the air, pointing to USA's relatively recent "Characters Welcome" branding.

"The smart way is to make sure you're not creating a tag line or brand that's just slapped on what you're doing but one that comes organically from what you have," she said. "Find something that embraces everything on the air."

The panel also discussed the benefits and drawbacks of having content posted on iTunes or YouTube. Showtime Networks chairman and CEO Matthew Blank said that having content featured online or on other digital media can help build buzz for Showtime programs, like the untitled comedy series from Tom Kapinos, star David Duchovny and Stephen Hopkins that was just picked up for an August premiere (HR 3/15).

"We can get our programs sampled by more people, and if you do that, then you build the brand and get more subscriptions and more attention for your programming," he said, adding that there are definitely concerns about intellectual property rights, however.

Doug Herzog, president of MTV Entertainment Group, seconded the idea that his company likes the exposure on multiple platforms but wants to make sure the company along with its talent makes money off of those platforms.

As for advertisers, A&E Television Networks president and CEO Abbe Raven added that advertisers still recognize the important of linear television.

"Advertisers were flocking to be on (A&E's acquired series) 'The Sopranos'; it had never had advertising before (in its airings on HBO)," she said. "Advertisers still want to be associated with great product."

Moderator Michael Davies, president and CEO of Embassy Row and executive producer of "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire," also asked the panel for predictions about the TV industry five to 10 years down the road.

"The TV and computer will be a lot closer; the family will gather around the computer (instead of a TV set)," Herzog said.
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