Comcast Exec to Network Bigs: ‘We Have to Get Out of Our Own Way’

Future of TV up for debate at PromaxDBA conference

"We have to get out of our own way." That was the message Matt Strauss, Comcast's senior vice president of interactive media had for his fellow panelists at the opening of the PromaxDBA conference in Midtown Manhattan Tuesday.  

At points, Strauss sounded a chiding note, saying that the networks are acting too slowly to bring their content to a variety of different video platforms. ”People don’t care, they don’t want to hear why certain things are on certain platforms. They just want it,” he said. The future of “television” that Strauss envisions doesn’t center on traditional TV at all, but on the plethora of portable and nonportable devices—from iPads to laptops to phones and Internet-enabled flat screens—that viewers are increasingly turning to for their video content. 

To their credit, it was a point the network executives also on the panel seemed to concede. And so, they said, in this world of increasingly fractured audiences, brand is king. The networks that successfully retain eyeballs will be the ones who have an articulate brand that viewers can latch on to. “Brands are more important than they’ve ever been,” said A&E Network president Bob DeBitetto. “People are making decisions about how they spend their time. And the brands matter.”

Still, as Cooking Channel general manager Michael Smith pointed out, not everyone in the television industry is moving in the right direction on branding. “One of the good things about cable is that we got good at branding networks,” Smith said. “But now everyone is trying to become general entertainment again . . . I can’t tell whether that pregnant teenager is on TLC or MTV . . .  It all kind of blends together.”

In addition to DeBitetto and Smith, Strauss, a regular at these sorts of conferences, was joined on stage by Ed Carroll, COO of Rainbow Entertainment Services, USA Network co-president Chris McCumber, and moderator Donny Deutsch.