Jul 21, 2003  •  Post A Comment

There’s an old saying that if you want something to get done, give it to a busy person. If you’re in the cable industry, that person just might be Matt Blank, the president and CEO of Showtime, who has also been closely involved with two leading trade organizations, the Cable & Telecommunications Association for Marketing and the National Cable & Telecommunications Association.
“Matt would be a good subject for cloning,” said Robert Sachs, president and CEO of NCTA. Mr. Blank served as chairman for the National Show in June, and he is credited with saving CTAM from slipping into irrelevancy, said CTAM President and CEO Char Beales.
Mr. Blank is receiving the Grand Tam Award at the CTAM Summit this week. He was selected for the honor not only because of his contribution to the organization but also for his work shepherding the No. 2 premium channel and fashioning a distinct identity for Showtime with the No Limits brand.
“He is an extraordinary marketer and an extraordinary industry leader,” Ms. Beales said. “I think there is a very genuine appreciation for Matt’s leadership.”
Mr. Blank chaired CTAM in the early ’90s. “When he chaired, CTAM was on the ropes and was perceived as not very useful. Matt was really instrumental in saving CTAM,” she said.
The association had lost touch with operators, said Mr. Blank, who brought Ms. Beales into the fold shortly after he arrived. “We spent a lot of time on a strategic plan and focused on the most critical issues facing the industry,” he said. “It had gone through a momentary lapse. It is more professionally run [now] and more strategic in identifying the key points.”
Mr. Blank’s input is valuable because not only is he interested in industry issues he will also speak his mind if he doesn’t like an idea, she said.
Mr. Sachs concurred. “He brings a lot of energy to the table and also doesn’t check his opinions at the door. That’s a good thing. If he is going to chair your committee or be on your board, Matt is going to offer his thoughts,” he said.
Mr. Blank, who joined Showtime in 1988 after 12 years at HBO, talked to TelevisionWeek from the TCA Press Tour earlier this month about key issues facing the cable industry during the next year.
The marketing of on-demand illustrates how the industry has come full circle in selling. “When I joined HBO in 1976 we went to 40 states trying to market this. It was largely an antenna business, and HBO was coming along. It was sold door to door,” he said. The cable business grew from peddling technology, the antenna, to hawking programming, like HBO. As cable expanded, the marketing centered on the different types of programming.
Now the business is coming back to technology as a centerpiece through new products such as subscription video-on-demand and high-definition television. “They are all tech enhancements that make the programming better and more accessible. We can use this technology to dramatically enhance the way people use and view television,” Mr. Blank said.
He is cautious about the full potential for on-demand. The industry will be able to better glean the long-term VOD opportunity after low-hanging fruit has been plucked, he said. “One of the problems you have in evaluating this is the early adopters are the heaviest users, so their behavior doesn’t replicate the market as a whole,” Mr. Blank said. “So I am very cautious when I see this early stuff. These are core subscribers to begin with. I am interested when we start hitting into the bone a little bit, the middle of the universe.”
The current competitive environment, with direct broadcast satellite’s strong retail presence and national footprint, is an opportunity for cable operators and programmers to join forces, Mr. Blank said. Together, they can find solutions to pricing, product mix and the notion of how to introduce new high-value services without cannibalizing the core business.