TelevisionWeek is teaming up with TV industry veteran Marianne Paskowski. The blog will give Marianne a forum to convey her deep knowledge of the industry and pass along some of the juicy morsels she's hearing on the grapevine. Marianne has covered the TV industry from the inside out and top to bottom, and TVWeek's readers are bound to benefit from her sharp eyes, ears and wit. TVWeek.com invites readers to jump online, chime in and pick Marianne's brain on the latest industry news.


Marianne Paskowski

TV Networks Brace for Black Friday Sales

November 26, 2008 10:14 AM

I’m not one of those maniacs who get up early the Friday after Thanksgiving to jump-start my holiday shopping spree.

With all the bad economic barometers out there, Black Friday sales will provide another yardstick about the state of television advertising. And for now we know it doesn’t look great.

But maybe it won’t be all gloom and doom. While the three domestic auto companies have noticeably slashed their ad budgets, ads for imported cars seem to be on the rise.

And Wal-Mart, the nation’s largest retailer, which has absolutely no need to advertise its value proposition, is laying it on thick this season, with TV spots running in all dayparts.

So yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus, even though we’ve seen all those surveys that predict consumers are tapped, and are capping their holiday spending budgets.

Happy Thanksgiving to all.

‘Sears Has Everything’—and Now Comcast Cable

November 24, 2008 10:50 AM

Sears can thank me later for creating its new ad jingle. Comcast, the nation’s largest cable provider, announced it is teaming with the retailer to promote the MSO’s digital video, cable modem and cable phone services in 400 Sears stores around the country.

Sears Television Department

What incredibly odd bedfellows they make. Comcast will train Sears’ employees to sell its bundled triple-play offering. Also in 100 of those stores, Comcast will have interactive HDTV display units set up.

I’m assuming Comcast is setting up in Sears’ consumer electronic departments, next to television sets and other gizmos.

But who on this planet would ever buy a TV set at Sears? Sure, I would buy a Craftsman screwdriver set there, if I were inclined to buy that kind of thing. But a TV set, let alone a cable package of services?

Wouldn’t it have been smarter for Comcast to team up with Best Buy, where people actually buy consumer electronic products?

I don’t like anything about this idea. New customers, and only new customers, who sign up for Comcast at Sears get a $100 mail-in rebate coupon for one product purchase, like a cable modem, or a $250 rebate for the triple bundled package.

So once again, Comcast is ignoring existing customers by not offering them the same rebate.

TV Cable Nets: No Place for Senior Female Execs

November 21, 2008 8:35 AM

So much for crashing through glass ceilings is what I conclude from reading highlights of the 2008 Women in Cable Telecommunications’ PAR Initiative Survey that tracks female employment trends at both cable programming and distribution companies.

Glass Ceiling

The biggest shocker was the glaring fact that top female executives at cable programming companies dropped significantly from 32.5% two years ago to 26.1% this year.

So how to explain this glaring ebb of top female talent at the cable programming nets? Consolidation is the culprit, say the survey’s analysts.

They point to the departures of leaders like Oxygen Media founder and CEO Gerry Laybourne, who sold her company to NBC Universal.

OK, that’s one person. Who else, I ask? I can’t think of one.

The study’s analysts also say women who run cable networks might be counted as middle management now that their companies are part of larger organizations.

Might? Don’t we know?

No matter how you slice it, most top-level jobs at the cable programmers are going to men, the survey concludes.

And that’s the real answer, I say, not this mumbo-jumbo about consolidation.

Obama Needs More TV Time

November 18, 2008 10:03 AM

Sure, I know it’s a delicate line to walk for president elect Barack Obama, as he bides his time until January when he is officially sworn in as the nation’s 44th president.

And that’s a mistake. Every cable news network should be crawling all over him right now, as the economic picture worsens. And I hope we see the president elect roll up his sleeves and not stand on protocol.

So how really delicate is that president-elect fine line? Not at all, I say.

For years we’ve had a lame-duck president, who can’t do a thing now. Witness just this weekend an unproductive G20 conference in Washington, where economic leaders from all over the world just put lipstick on the global economic meltdown pig.

Of course nothing came out of that. How could it?

This past Sunday, CBS “60 Minutes” correspondent Steve Kroft scored an interview with Barack and Michelle Obama, and yes, I was among the 24.5 million viewers who tuned in to see what he had to say—mostly the economy.

Watch CBS Videos Online

Basically, I liked what I saw, but Obama was tentative.

Today, just a day later, I hear that Obama, president elect, who has been tiptoeing around economic issues during this transition period, will play some role in this week’s plea by General Motors to secure a bailout at the Fed window.

Obama needs to be at that table. And I encourage all news gathering organizations to prod Obama to push aside protocol and not stand on formalities to jump-start our great nation.

‘R’ Word Mostly on Mute at CTAM Summit

November 12, 2008 11:47 AM

Speakers at the CTAM Summit in Boston largely ignored the elephant in the room, the “R” word, as they put one foot in front of the other, discussing present and future trends.

And why not? Was there anyone in attendance who didn’t know how deeply entrenched this recession has become?

CTAM Summit 2008

Day One CTAM Summit 2008

But in the closing session Tuesday, Merrill Lynch analyst Jessica Reif Cohen said that while there is a perception that cable is recession-proof, in fact it’s actually more recession-resistant. She said cable does better than most businesses because of its strong cash flow and ability to recover more quickly during recessions, but she didn’t expect a recovery for cable until the first quarter of 2010.

Clearly cable is no General Motors, begging at the Federal Treasury window, but it is challenged. A marketing exec at a cable network said cable will get hit hardest in ad sales, as the industry is already experiencing overall weakness in the scatter market. She also told me her marketing budget is already tapped out for the year.

CTAM Summit 2008

Trade Show Char Beales declared the year's gathering a "victory."

CTAM Summit attendance was high, about 2,222, down just slightly from last year’s event, said CTAM President Char Beales, who declared the event a “huge victory in this environment.”

And what an environment it is. One multisystem operator’s marketing head told me her company has a “recession plan” at hand, as the company is experiencing no growth from new subscribers.

Perhaps more sobering is the ongoing reduction in headcount at both cable distribution and programming companies, with Cox Cable trimming its workforce by 2%.

One executive search firm executive told me that by year’s end, cable could see a staggering 40% total loss in jobs, counting earlier streamlining moves made during the past several years, first by the programmers and later by the MSOs, with more whacking to come by Q4.

Election Night Media Habits Changed Forever

November 5, 2008 11:35 AM

There’s change in the air, and I’m not just referring to Sen. Barack Obama winning the race to become the nation’s 44th president. His victory was sweeping, and voters were riveted to their TV sets all night as we watched history unfold as our nation elected a black man as president.

Sen. Barack Obama

But were viewers really riveted? The answer is yes and no. They just weren’t watching TV, they were multitasking via other modes of communication that have changed our TV viewing habits forever.

While channel-surfing, I’ll bet, you also were in the e-mail batting cage, hearing from pals in other states to learn what they were seeing during their local newsbreaks, all while cradling phones as friends and neighbors called.

As we surfed the TV set with remotes at hand, our mouses were in overdrive, too, as we surfed the Internet, exchanging e-mails with friends across the nation who advised “Switch to NBC” or “Check out Fox now.”

It was probably a great night to be a TV viewer in Chicago, as the Windy City prepared for an Obama victory in Grant Park. My nephew there kept me up-to-the-minute with his descriptions of other jubilant preparations under way at local churches on the South Side, coverage that I couldn’t see here.

So today I admit I have a severe sensory overload hangover. And I bet you do, too.

Anyone know of a cure?

Critics Cotton to Obama’s Infomercial

October 30, 2008 8:09 AM

By and large media critics praised Sen. Barack Obama’s 30-minute infomercial that ran last night on CBS, Fox, BET, Univision, MSNBC and TVOne at an estimated cost of $3.5 million to $5 million.

Count me among those who found the time spent watching as a refreshing reminder of why this country needs a change.

It was a well-coordinated plea to appeal to the middle-class viewer who is caught in the middle of this economic mess, aimed squarely at everyone from voters facing retirement to younger voters who had just lost their jobs.

Most refreshing was the fact that Obama took the high road, unlike his opponent, Sen. John McCain, who accused Obama of already measuring the White House windows for new drapes.

That’s a snarky comment that McCain has repeated often as the gap between the candidates widens, in favor of Obama.

My question is, if Obama were indeed so cocky about winning the race, why would he spend the money on this steep-priced infomercial?

Palin’s $150,000 Wardrobe Riles Viewers

October 23, 2008 1:04 PM

Gov. Sarah Palin

Gov. Sarah Palin

Today we learned that a fellow Republican gave Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin $150,000 to gussy up her wardrobe and her family’s threads shortly after Sen. John McCain announced that she would be his running mate.

That factoid has got to sit in the craw of most voters and TV viewers who don’t even make that much money a year and have been watching their 401ks and other investments nosedive. GOP supporters said the media coverage regarding this is unprecedented and biased.

I say, bring it on. I want to know everything about this woman who emerged from out of nowhere and would be a heartbeat away from running this country if McCain keels over: That’s something to think about, given his age and what little we know about his medical history.

If Palin were a true “maverick”—her moniker, not mine—she would present herself for who she really is, a soccer mom from Alaska.

I hope “SNL” has a ball with this latest campaign update. Maybe Tina Fey will come out dressed in a parka and hip-high boots, rather than those newly purchased designer rags.

The big question is, will this revelation hurt Palin’s appeal with viewers and voters?

Local Cable TV Spots Work for Restaurants

October 22, 2008 10:45 AM

An article in today’s New York Times about how restaurants across the nation are hurting during the ongoing economic meltdown failed to address how their owners are tweaking their media plans to help manage the pain.

A solution that might help to stem the damage is hyper-local ad spots.

Elsewhere I read that broadcast national spot TV sales are expected to drop a whopping 17%.

But that doesn’t seem to be the case in Comcast-land, where I live. The MSO appears to be thriving with its Comcast Local Spot program, which runs scads of ads from local restaurants.

Judging from mere anecdotal evidence, local cable ads seem to really work. We went out to a Thai restaurant for dinner last night, and it was hurting, even though the food is excellent, the ambiance and service are great, in essence making it a great value experience.

By contrast, a nearby restaurant that floods local cable with ads had a jammed parking lot. The restaurant is expensive, the service is abysmal and the ambiance totally blows.

But the Thai restaurant doesn’t advertise on local cable while its next-door neighbor—the crummy, expensive restaurant—runs a heavy ad schedule on Comcast’s Local Spot program.

Have you witnessed that correlation in your neck of the woods? Check it out and share. I think I’m onto something here.

New Frugality Finally Reflected in TV Ads

October 15, 2008 10:47 AM

Finally, a breath of fresh air is swooshing across TV channels. TV ads are starting to address the country’s economic strains in their messages. What a relief from brokerage firms' ads touting their supposed prowess.

KFC $10 Challenge TV Spot

I first saw this happening with WalMart’s new ads. Soon the reality of the nation’s fiscal woes spread to other marketers.

I just love Marshall’s new ad poking fun at how designer jackets find their way to this discount chain, depicting an urban, snooty boutique owner who turned down a shipment of jackets because he didn’t have room for them. Marshall’s selling proposition upon receiving the inventory is, “we don’t have space issues.” Clever, I say.

Then there’s the $10 challenge from KFC, asking viewers to try to recreate a meal of a bucket of chicken and all the side dishes at home for the same price by buying the ingredients at a supermarket.

Meanwhile, Walgreens is touting its health care buses touring the nation offering basic free health care screening tests. Seniors on fixed income sure can relate to that offer.

Even Target, a retailer that has always marketed itself as upscale, is going more mainstream, or I guess you can say downstream, with its new tagline, “get more for less.”

I think viewers relate to marketers being sensitive to these hard times.

Do you?