Brenner Tapped At In Demand

After a three-month search, In Demand LLC has hired longtime USA Network executive Stephen Brenner to be its new CEO.

Soon after disclosing in open court that he had been stripped of day-to-day responsibilities at USA, Brenner opted to join In Demand July 10 to oversee the fledgling pay-per-view network's operations.

He replaces former president Mindy Herman, who left the network after only one year to take the head job at E! Entertainment Television.

Brenner brings to In Demand much programming, marketing and operational know-how, but little PPV experience. He joined USA in 1982 as vice president of business affairs, but his role expanded over the years to include programming negotiations for the basic network.

He was named executive vice president and chief operating officer in 1995 and president of operations in 1998, overseeing business and strategic development for USA Network and Sci Fi Channel.

But Brenner's role at USA decreased significantly after Stephen Chao became president of USA Cable in March. Brenner even admitted in June 12 testimony during USA Cable's civil suit against World Wrestling Federation Entertainment Inc. and Viacom Inc. that he was on bad terms with senior USA executives and his job carried no day-to-day responsibilities.

Brenner said he started talking with In Demand board members at the National Show in New Orleans in May and eventually came to an agreement. He added that he had been considering taking a summer hiatus, but the In Demand opportunity was too good to pass up.

"The aggressive launch of digital cable and the expanding technical capabilities like VOD [video-on-demand] make In Demand a very attractive network, poised for tremendous growth," Brenner said last week.

In a prepared statement, Time Warner Cable senior vice president and In Demand chairman Fred Dressler cited Brenner's background in dealing with programmers at USA.

"His experience leading one of the top entertainment brands in television and his relationships with film studios and sports organizations are the key assets we were looking for in order to make In Demand a major programming player in a very competitive business," Dressler said.

Brenner inherits a network that has made big strides in the past year to galvanize the PPV industry.

Herman was successful in getting the industry to adapt the national In Demand brand name for PPV in an effort to better identify and promote the industry's product-particularly in the face of intense competition from direct-broadcast satellite.

Under her watch, the network secured rights to several major PPV-event packages, including out-of-market sports packages from the National Basketball Association and National Hockey League that were formerly exclusive to DBS.

The network also implemented a number of aggressive marketing and promotion initiatives that have helped to create awareness for both PPV events and movies.

But In Demand also had a few setbacks, particularly in regard to licensing deals with content providers. Event providers have grumbled about the aggressive stance the network has made with regard to distribution fees.

In March, the network was involved in a highly public licensing-fee feud with Showtime Event Television over a Mike Tyson-Lou Savarese fight. SET ended up pulling the fight from In Demand and carried it last week on SET's sister pay TV service, Showtime.

Herman also recruited several key executives, including former Fox Channels Group vice president Mark Sonnenberg, former FX Networks senior vice president of marketing Gavin Harvey and former DirecTV Inc. programming executive Rob Jacobson.

Brenner said he does not expect to make any major changes in the organization, and added that the company's current senior staff has done a great job in developing and implementing the In Demand brand.

"I'm not walking into a broken organization," he said. "I have a good group of people here, and I'm looking forward to meeting and hearing more from them about the company and its future."

He did say, though, that the network's push will be to secure quality and marquee programming from the various event distributors, as well as to develop long-term agreements with the studios for both near-VOD and VOD services.

"Some things are obvious: There's a need to develop original product," he added.

Brenner is particularly bullish on VOD, which, he said, In Demand will play a significant role in developing for the industry. But the network has yet to secure VOD deals with the studios.

Industry executives greeted Brenner's hiring with cautious optimism. While many were concerned that Brenner didn't have much PPV experience, they were willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.

"I'm happy to hear that In Demand has found a person whom they feel can lead the PPV network," one PPV-event distributor said.

Former USA Networks president Kay Koplovitz said she believes Brenner-who was Koplovitz's right hand man during her tenure-will do an excellent job at In Demand regardless of his PPV background.

"I have a lot of confidence in Steve. He has excellent business sense and has a strong relationship with sports organizations as well as the studios and is very well experienced in negotiating with them," said Koplovitz, currently chairman of PPV distribution company Broadway Television Network.

R. Thomas Umstead

R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.