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Q&A: Robert D. Jacobson, In Demand Networks

Mar 22, 2007  •  Post A Comment

Earlier this week, In Demand Networks announced its 4-year-old general entertainment channel INHD was going to re-brand into a men’s network called Mojo. The news came five months after In Demand folded its other channel, INHD2.
In Demand is owned by a consortium of cable operators, including Comcast, Cox and Time Warner. When INHD and INHD2 launched in 2003, some considered the networks to be “placeholders”—a way for cable operators to stock an HD tier until audience favorites such as USA, TNT and A&E launch their own HD channels.
By late last year, most major cable networks either had an HD channel or were making plans to launch one as part of DirecTV’s push to carry 100 HD channels by the end of 2007. In this increasingly crowded field, In Demand’s two channels were under increasing pressure to do more than simply fill space.
So INHD2 was quietly folded, while INHD will rebrand May 1 as Mojo, adopting the identity of the network’s prime-time original programming block. Since debuting the block last summer, In Demand said it has seen a 37 percent increase in advertising revenue.
Mojo will feature original unscripted original programming such as “Uncorked With Billy Merritt,” a “guy’s guide to wine” where comedian Mr. Merritt travels to vineyards and restaurants; “I Bet You,” with poker pros and longtime friends Phil Laak and Antonio Esfandiari traveling the country making bets on anything and everything; “The Show,” about a group of baseball players attempting to transition to the big leagues; and “London Live,” a concert series.
TVWeek spoke to Rob Jacobson, president and CEO of In Demand Networks, about the brand change, INHD2 and whether Mark Cuban is correct when he says Mojo is still just reserving a space.
TVWeek: How was the rebranding decision made?
Mr. Jacobson: We launched the channel back in September 2003, and we knew the time was going to come when it was no longer enough to be about technology, it was going to be about programming and having a brand that stood on its own.
TVWeek: So you’re saying from the very beginning, INHD was planned to become something else?
Mr. Jacobson: No. From the beginning, INHD was developed to serve the needs of cable operators to satisfy people’s desire for more HD programming. In order for the channel to stand for something other than high definition, we always had planned the channel would evolve and have an independent identity.
We didn’t know what [identity], we only knew the channel lineup was going to get very cluttered with well-established brands.
At the same time, we were evaluating the programming landscape to make sure we had a programming landscape that was sustainable.
TVWeek: But you didn’t just have INHD, you also launched INHD2.
Mr. Jacobson: We launched both at same time. In 2003, when the channels were conceived, there was very little in the way of HD programming. The channels were in part to meet that demand and appetite.
The second channel was to some degree a bandwidth-efficient response to what the cable operators were going to do locally. INHD2 was often preempted by regional sports networks. A lot of those regional sports networks are now stand-alone channels in HD.
We could take the best programming from INHD and INHD2 and meld them together into Mojo.
TVWeek: You’re referring to being what some call a placeholder. I asked Mark Cuban about the Mojo rebranding. He said INHD and Mojo “were, and are, a placeholder for third-party programming, like the NBA, NHL and others.” So is Mojo still a placeholder or are you here to stay?
Mr. Jacobson: Had we not done what we did, Mark might have been right.
He’s going to confront some of the same challenges that we did—a channel nomenclature that is just about the technology. We need to be about something other than the technology, and that’s what Mojo is.
As many men watch television, there are not many [channels] that speak to the active affluents—men making more than $100,000 a year and who are active. It’s a sustainable channel option.
To some degree, Mark’s comment might be wishful thinking: If we’re a placeholder, then it could clear up some bandwidth for his channel.
TVWeek: Are upscale men really underserved? There’s HBO, SpikeTV, G4, Comedy Central, ESPN and others.
Mr. Jacobson: Spike, to me, skews younger. Comedy Central isn’t as male-centric as Mojo. We knew we wouldn’t compete with ESPN on sports, or USA and TNT as general entertainment programming.
TVWeek: Why do original programming instead of acquired?
Mr. Jacobson: Ultimately, if you are going to be a branded destination, you are going to be about originals. Strategic acquisitions are always helpful. On HBO, people watch the movies, but [the network is] known for ‘The Sopranos.’
TVWeek: HD programming tends to be movies, sports, nature, music and high drama. You’re doing a lot of reality programming, which is usually the last type of programming to get upgraded to hi-def. Are these shows really the best fit for a pure-HD network? Or, at this point, since everybody is going HD, is the HD aspect sort of beside the point?
Mr. Jacobson: It’s a really good point.
You have to look at the day when it’s not about the technology anymore. It’s about the programming.
One of the things cable operators really like it that it’s 24/7 programming in HD and 5.1 surround sound.
But you have to look at the road ahead, three to five years from now, when all programming is in HD. You don’t want to be the Color Television Channel.

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