GSN Eager for Cronin to Stay

Mar 20, 2006  •  Post A Comment

Congratulations, Rich Cronin. You’ve just won another term as CEO of GSN.

Mr. Cronin, whose contract at the network expires at the end of April, has been given a proposal for a new contract by the game show network’s owners, Liberty Media and Sony.

“We think that there have been marked improvements in the programming of the channel,” said Michael Zeisser, senior VP for Liberty, who added he hopes the negotiations with Mr. Cronin will be successful.

Mr. Zeisser also credited Mr. Cronin, who joined the network in 2001, with boosting distribution, injecting innovation via interactive programming and building a good management team. The network is also making money, he said.

Mr. Cronin said he expects to remain at the channel. “I think GSN has a lot of potential and we’ve got a good group of people here,” he said. “Despite the ongoing battles with cable operators, it’s still fun.”

To be sure, GSN still faces challenges.

“There were a lot of hopes that when Liberty did the 50-50 joint venture with Sony on this network that they were going to layer all of this interactivity on it and it was going to take off,” said Derek Baine, senior analyst for Kagan Media Research, in an e-mail to TelevisionWeek. “That hasn’t happened, and the network is doing mediocre, given the number of subs it has. But lacking being bundled with a larger group of networks like Viacom’s MTV Networks (to raise affiliate fees), it will be tough to get it into its peer group of 40 [percent to] 50 percent margins anytime soon.”

Kagan estimates that GSN will generate $117.8 million in revenue in 2006, up from $99.9 million in 2005, and that cash flow will jump to $18.9 million in 2006 from $5.7 million in 2005.

Last week the network managed to dodge a bullet after Time Warner Cable’s Binghamton, N.Y., system moved the channel to a digital tier instead of following through on an original plan to drop the channel altogether. But the network isn’t completely out of the woods yet, since it is negotiating with the cable giant for continued carriage on the all-important New York system.

At the same time, GSN Senior VP of Programming Ian Valentine left the network March 17 to pursue a new, undisclosed start-up channel. Mr. Cronin said he’s already talking to candidates and headhunters and hopes to have a new programming chief in place within a few months.

Until then, “I get to be the programming person, too, now, in addition to all my other day jobs,” he said. That means the network remains open for business, taking pitches, developing shows and shooting pilots. One project expected to go to pilot is a game show produced by Michael Davies under a larger deal with Sony. “The last run-through looked great,” Mr. Cronin said.

Getting a breakthrough hit is one of the challenges he faces in his new term, Mr. Cronin said. “We’ve had some successes, but everybody wants that ‘South Park’ or ‘Trading Spaces’ or ‘Queer Eye [for the Straight Guy]’ or one of those shows that really can take the network to the next level.”

Aims to Dominate Niche

Mr. Cronin acknowledged that pushing the network’s distribution up from 58 million subscribers is also a challenge he faces. “It’s always tough. Even though we’ve grown from 30 million while I’ve been here, the next 30 million will be harder,” he said.

A sale of GSN to a major network group could help boost distribution, but Mr. Cronin said that the Liberty-Sony relationship appears solid and that both companies want to own the game show niche the way Comedy Central dominates the comedy genre.

But GSN could face rivals, including a new network from Rainbow Media.

“Every few years one of the big broadcast networks puts a game show on in prime time that does great ratings at reasonable costs. With ‘Deal or No Deal’ coming back on NBC, everyone wants to get on the bandwagon,” Mr. Cronin said. “It’s great for us. When it happened with ‘[Who Wants to Be a] Millionaire’ a few years ago, it helped GSN have a higher profile. And we feel like we’re in position to capitalize on the latest revival of interest in game shows.”

Jay Sherman contributed to this report.