Cable can learn from USA Network

Marketplace Staff Apr 17, 2009

Cable can learn from USA Network

Marketplace Staff Apr 17, 2009


Bill Radke: Google reported some nice profits after the bell yesterday. Quarterly earnings jumped 9 percent and beat Wall Street expectations.

Yesterday, Google-owned YouTube announced a deal to bring movies and TV shows to its site. Right now, it’s mostly older stuff — Starsky and Hutch, Married with Children — but eventually the plan is to show new, premium content and to charge for it. Meanwhile, cable network USA is bringing in the audience. USA averaged more than 3.2 million viewers last quarter — more than any cable network in history.

Michael Speier watches the entertainment industry for us in Los Angeles. Michael, what is USA doing right?

Mike Speier: USA has a couple of shows that are really glomming onto the public infatuation with staying home and watching television right now. Something like Monk, which has been on for a long time, it’s still doing strong. New shows like In Plain Sight are doing very well. USA has been one of the top brands in cable television for a very long time. It’s the family brand, it’s had its ups and downs, but it has a lot of uniqueness to it that a lot of cable stations would really love to have. There are a certain amount of cable stations, like USA, that are real brands in the environment. I’m sure the parent company, NBC Universal, wishes that would translate into major viewership for its big flagship, NBC.

Radke: Well yeah. In fact, NBC and the networks are now starting to unveil their new line-ups to their advertisers. What are you expecting?

Speier: I do expect that networks are no longer interested in spending a lot of money on big name talent to come onto the air, because they’ve really ceded that responsibility to cable. Instead, they’re going to more shows that are ensemble-based. They don’t have to pay the talent as much because they’re not names as much, but they can find stars and they can say, look, we don’t have the names we used to have, but what we do have is great writing and great ensemble shows that are really, really grow with time. And that’s what advertisers are looking for, because nowadays, the average show gets canceled within a year. They want shows to stay on the year and build a fanbase.

Radke: What’s an example of that? How I Met Your Mother? Or . . .

Speier: Great example. Something like How I Met Your Mother is a perfect example of, sure, Neil Patrick Harris is a reasonable star on television, he was a name, but he was —

Radke: Doogie Howser.

Speier: Right, exactly. And he was able to get some kind of fanbase. But the point is that it had five or six other people that no one at the time a couple years ago had ever heard of, and it’s grown an audience, and that’s really what stuck Of course, we do see someone like Charlie Sheen have a sitcom, and it’s a hit sitcom. Stars aren’t . . . but if you can get a hit show without paying that talent, then you’re in good shape.

Radke: Entertainment watcher Michael Speier.

Speier: Pleasure.

Radke: Thank you so much.

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