Cable Execs Won't Duplicate 'House of Cards' Model, Still Want Water-Cooler TV

HRTS Cable Chiefs - H 2013
Hollywood Radio and Television Society

HRTS Cable Chiefs - H 2013

Speaking at the HRTS luncheon, A+E Networks' Nancy Dubuc, HBO's Michael Lombardo and Turner's Steve Koonin praise the bravery of Netflix but say their brands are committed to destination viewing such as "Game of Thrones" and "Hatfields & McCoys."

Proving that binge viewing can still inspire a lingering conversation, Netflix's House of Cards remains a hot topic among television executives nearly a month after all 13 episodes saw a simultaneous premiere.

The series and its aggressive marketing were debated at the Hollywood Radio and Television Society's February luncheon on Wednesday, which saw cable executives try to define their evolving brands with moderator Ben Silverman.

"I appreciate Netflix did it. It’s a showy thing to do, but I’m not sure it is the best way to keep the viewer emotionally engaged," said HBO programming president Michael Lombardo. "If you want a show that hits the zeitgeist, there is the shared experience on Monday morning or Wednesday morning of having the same conversation about the same show. You don’t get that with binge viewing. It's a personal experience."

Lombardo brushed off the possibility of ever releasing an entire season of any of his shows in one outing. "Our hope is Game of Thrones becomes a Sunday expectation," he said. "We want to drive viewers to a night."

STORY: Media Execs Divided on Netflix's 'House of Cards' Model

A+E Networks entertainment and media president Nancy Dubuc noted that while an all-at-once release for a broadcaster wouldn't work, the model for weekly episodes has its drawbacks as well. Dubuc admitted that she mulled airing History's record-breaking Hatfields & McCoys as a weekly for its six installments before deciding that three consecutive nights over Memorial Day weekend 2012 would bring in more consistent ratings.

"I think it was a nod to binge viewing, but it was also about getting back to event TV," she said. "You’re pushing your marketing dollars to work all at once. ... It really ended up being a math formula, and advertisers would have rather had us spread them out over six weeks, but we took a calculated risk. I think the stars aligned on that one."

And though advertisers may have been skeptical of the binge, it served History well when it entered upfront negotiations just days after Hatfields' 14.29 million-strong ratings.

The trio of panelists, which also included Turner Entertainment Networks president Steve Koonin, also differed in their approach to branding. Dubuc confessed that her stable -- Lifetime, History, A+E -- typically doesn't make a big marketing push until series' second seasons, instead promoting launches more cheaply on the sister networks. Koonin said that TNT and TBS were looking at ways to start promoting shows months ahead of their premieres.

STORY: A+E's Nancy Dubuc on 'Liz & Dick': I'd Do It Again

"We’ve changed our marketing strategy," said Koonin. "We’re going to market from greenlight to finale. ... We have social marketing producers on the set of our new shows."

One thing that hasn't changed for Turner, however, is its dramatically differing audiences. Koonin referenced the recent Screen Actors Guild Awards as a prime example of the different audiences TNT and TBS are reaching. The simulcast of the kudos saw TBS' broadcast bring in an average viewer of 41 years old and much more men. TNT's airing skewed 10 years older and was more female-driven.

"The term 'basic cable' has become an oxymoron," he added. "There is nothing basic about it."