Cable ’04: Introduction

Change is usually a good thing, no matter the business you’re in, because it means you’re probably moving forward. Take Discovery Communications, one of the truly original brands in the cable industry. Not only has the company aggressively grown its roster of cable services, it has worked very hard to keep them all finely tuned, much like the machinery showcased on Discovery’s programs. Billy Campbell, who was hired by Discovery founder and chairman John Hendricks to revive the flagship channel’s sagging fortunes, has pulled off an impressive feat: changing attitudes, programming and ad sales, all without throwing the company’s heritage out the window. Megan Larson’s story, beginning on page 20, gets the inside track on how Campbell and his smart hire of Joe Abruzzese to run the ad sales side of the operation has yielded vastly improved ratings and ad revenue.

The cable industry is also pressing hard for change in the halls of Washington, over the tedious but vital issue of must-carry legislation. The matter, as Todd Shields reports, on page 6, takes on greater gravitas because of the accelerated rollout of digital television in cable homes. As more homes sign up for digital cable, or high-definition TV service, subscribers begin to find out just how much the standoff between broadcasters and cable affects what they end up seeing. The irony is that both sides do need each other—they just don’t know how to hammer out an accord without having the government force it on them (which, of course, causes them both to complain loudly).

Change has been constant among the 24-hour news networks, now that Fox News Channel has essentially cemented its position as the leader of the triumvirate that includes the veteran CNN and the well-connected but still weak MSNBC. Alec Foege dissects the latest numbers and trends affecting the news networks through the prism of this fall’s presidential elections, which promise to provide them all with plenty to cover, if they can get through the pre-convention lull. His story begins on page 10.

Michael Bürgi

Editor, Mediaweek