Harbert: Cable rests on brand strength
EmptyThe three key elements to a cable network's success are identifying a brand, having quality programming that falls in line with the brand and offering content on platforms above and beyond just the linear channel, Comcast Entertainment Group president and CEO Ted Harbert told an industry gathering.
Harbert, speaking Wednesday night during a Museum of Television & Radio Industry Forum Cocktail Reception in Beverly Hills, said that his company, which comprises cable networks E! Entertainment Television, Style Network and G4, is in the brand business, the content business and the "experience" business.
"In this fragmented media universe, you better believe you have to have a brand to sell, or you'll find yourself up a creek in a boat captained by Britney Spears," Harbert joked, before pointing out that the pop star has been providing E! with plenty of breaking news to cover, particularly in recent days. "I shouldn't joke about her; she's been giving us great ratings." (In fact, "E! News" has been seeing some of its highest ratings ever.)
Harbert went on to say that "it's not enough to have well-produced content but (also to give viewers) content when and where they want it" on various platforms, including VOD, broadband and mobile. He said that putting content on digital platforms helps drive viewers to the linear network and also helps expose the brand to new viewers.
Harbert also pointed out that user-generated-content sites like YouTube have given consumers a great deal of power.
"Before, we called the shots, but now technology has given them power," he said. "If they don't like what we make, they'll make it themselves and put it up on YouTube or they'll put our stuff up on YouTube. ... The Berlin Wall fell because kids got a taste of Jordache jeans; YouTube is the Jordache of today."
The executive also reiterated remarks he's made previously about the broadcast networks' programming model, saying they should take a page from cable's book. Harbert contends that broadcast should program fewer shows in primetime, repeating episodes throughout the week. He also argues that it's not good business to spend millions of dollars creating shows that sometimes don't last more than a couple of episodes before getting yanked from the schedule.
"The cable model is in the best position to be the healthiest," he said. "When you add international and other platforms, we're poised for growth while keeping the cost structure in check."