MSO Chiefs cool about Rebranding

Jul 28, 2003  •  Post A Comment

A panel of multiple system operator executives speaking at the CTAM Summit in Seattle last week criticized cable networks that opt for rebranding-even if the result is a better network.
“It’s not all about ratings,” said Lynne Costantini, VP of programming for Time Warner Cable. “We’re not in the business of leasing channels to programmers. When we do a deal with a programmer, it’s with a specific content in mind to appeal to a specific demographic.”
In other words, MSOs do not just agree to carry any channel but rather select specific services they can package to appeal to specific viewers. Ultimately, the MSOs have contractual final say over their content.
Ms. Costantini said networks will often enthuse about their improvements to operators, while an operator’s primary concern is whether the rebranding violates the “content clause” of a net’s carriage contract. The clause is a brief programming description that promises an MSO that the channel will provide specific content. When a network rebrands, the switch could violate the contract’s content clause.
Or, as Ms. Costantini put it: “I want to buy a Volkswagen … and you show up in a Cadillac. I don’t want a Cadillac.”
Patrick Esser, executive VP of Cox Communications, agreed.
“We make a conscious decision when we select a channel, and it frustrates me when networks decide to go through this metamorphosis,” Mr. Esser said.
After the panel, Mr. Esser and Ms. Costantini declined to comment on whether TNN’s rebrand to Spike TV or AMC’s switch to a commercial-supported format might be violations of their contracts. They also declined to comment when asked whether either MSO was considering dropping Spike TV.
A longtime network programmer said the execs’ complaints were a reflection of the continuous behind-the-scenes haggling between MSOs and evolving networks. Rarely, however, do such battles result in an operator completely dropping a network.
“If you ever change the content of a network and then go into a meeting to pitch the changes, the first thing [the MSOs] say is, `We checked the content clause and we’re dropping you everywhere,”’ said the programmer. “They want you to react and be worried. I guarantee you there’s been MSOs who’re saying they’re not carrying Spike TV. Then the programmers says, `Do you really want us to use all our power on all our networks to let people know you’re not carrying it?’ It’s all a negotiation.”