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Acquisitions: Cable’s Cornerstone

As the cable industry descends upon Chicago this week for INTX, town cars, taxis and Ubers will undoubtedly pass the Willis Tower. Once known as the Sears Tower, this famous building spent a quarter-century leading the skyscraper section of the Guinness Book of World Records.

Where most see an obligatory sightseeing stop, I see an analogy for the programming schedule of a basic-cable network.

The antennas adorning the top of this landmark skyscraper represent the pinnacle achievement of a cable network — a showcase of highly acclaimed, attention-getting, critically-applauded original series. Like those originals, the antennas provide the building with even greater height and stature; they send a commanding signal to those in the immediate vicinity.

The tallest Willis Tower antenna stands at nearly 300 feet high; but even at that height, it makes up only a small fraction of the overall 1,700-plus-foot tall structure. Below the antennas are 109 stories of steel, supports and foundation.

Similarly, the strong foundation that acquired content brings to leading basic-cable networks should not, and cannot, be ignored. Acquired series and movies are the brick, mortar and building blocks of entire networks.

Consider this: Off-net shows and movies represent 72% of all programming hours between 4 p.m. and midnight on the top 10 basic-cable networks (among adults 18-49, per Nielsen).

In today’s challenging environment we must remember that now more than ever, off-network and movie product is an integral, highly successful component of a top-rated basic-cable network.

• Advertisers pay for results. Off -net series and movies are proven performers with strong historical track records.

• Cable networks can leverage these established brands to energize their existing audiences, bring in new viewers, grow their cume distribution and provide potent launch platforms for their original series.

• Acquired content delivers existing mass-market appeal and powerful accumulation of episodes. These qualities give cable networks the versatility and flexibility to turn proven assets into ratings-and-revenue producing machines.

• The right formula of acquired content can empower, revitalize and even single-handedly drive a network up the cable ranks overnight. We’ve seen it happen time and again.

This week, as you admire the Chicago skyline, let it remind you that both famous buildings and top-ranked networks stand on strong foundations — foundations built from proven materials. Remember that acquired content makes up 72% of the 4 p.m.-midnight programming hours across the top 10 cable networks. Acquired series and movies are the tempered steel and concrete of the top-ranked networks.

Steve MacDonald is executive vice president and general sales manager of cable sales at 20th Television.