Comedy Central and Lifetime Television took totally
different routes to hire new presidents last week, with Comedy promoting a well-respected
insider and Lifetime recruiting a local broadcaster who is virtually unknown to the cable
community and Madison Avenue.
The new presidents and CEOs at their respective networks
are: Larry Divney, formerly executive vice president of ad sales at Comedy; and Carole
Black, general manager of KNBC-TV in Los Angeles, who will join Lifetime March 22.
Both said their priorities are to take their networks to
the next level by building on their brands.
While Comedy and Lifetime both enjoyed strong ad sales and
have been on ratings rolls in the past year, they're different in terms of what they
have left to accomplish. And those differences help to explain why, after an extensive
search, Comedy promoted from within to replace Doug Herzog, while Lifetime went outside of
the company to fill Doug McCormick's slot.
Divney, 55, said he will concentrate on "ramping
up" Comedy's development slate, increasing its subscriber base and multiplying
its asset value through ancillary revenue streams. The goal this year is to increase
Comedy's distribution to 62 million homes from its current total of 57 million.
In addition, Divney said he told Comedy's two
co-owners, Viacom Inc. and Time Warner Inc., that within three years, he will increase the
network's value to $2.5 billion from its current $1 billion.
Comedy's red-hot ratings hit South Park has
helped to define the network, but Divney recognizes the fact that Comedy needs a steady
supply of new original shows for its lineup.
Divney, who isn't a programmer, said he will give
Eileen Katz, executive vice president of programming, full latitude to do her job and to
continue looking for the offbeat fare that's Comedy's trademark.
In contrast, while Lifetime has been a top-10-rated
network, and it debuted some well-received original shows last year, the gripe from
critics is that it still hasn't created a strong enough connection with women.
Late last year, Lifetime's ownership -- The Walt
Disney Co. and Hearst Corp. -- complained that the network needs someone with more of a
"vision" at the top.
As a result, despite strong ratings, longtime Lifetime
president McCormick's contract wasn't renewed. He had overseen Lifetime's
rise to become a fully distributed, 73 million-subscriber network.
Sources said Lifetime's owners wanted a woman at the
network's helm to help stave off a new competitor: Oxygen, the upstart women's
service being created by the triumvirate of cable veteran Geraldine Laybourne, Oprah
Winfrey and producer Marcy Carsey.
Black, 54, said she's undaunted by the prospect of new
rivals in the women's arena next year.
"I have great respect for all three women heading
Oxygen," Black said, "but I've never been in a market that wasn't
Cable operators were caught somewhat off-guard last week by
"I was surprised that they went to broadcast for the
top post," said Lynne Buening, vice president of programming at Falcon Cable TV Corp.
"But she has a good reputation in the marketplace. She's very bright, and she
knows ad sales."
Several other MSO programming officials were guarded about
Black's prospects, saying that she will face a tough challenge in trying to hone
Lifetime's brand and programming. They questioned how much real creative programming
experience Black really has, since she heads an NBC owned-and-operated station, where most
of the lineup comes from the network.
But by the same token, these cable operators said, Black
could be a breath of fresh air at Lifetime and, therefore, she may be able to enact the
changes necessary to maintain its position as the leading women's network, despite
the coming assault from Oxygen.
One operator said Black's appointment at Lifetime
"could be a good thing. You just don't know."
According to that operator, "Lifetime needs to totally
reposition itself. Some of the shows are good, but it's hit-or-miss. They don't
do enough tune-in promotion for the really good ones. You don't know when
Black, who took her NBC owned-and-operated station to No. 1
in the Los Angeles market, admitted that she has no experience working at a cable network,
and that she is unfamiliar with the MSO community. But, she added, "I'm a fairly
Black also disputed those who said she lacks programming
experience. At KNBC, Black said, she helped to create a number of successful shows that
were aimed at women, such as Travel Café and For Your Health.
Before joining KNBC, Black was a marketing executive at
Disney, where she helped to launch an afternoon kids' block and sold Home
Improvement into syndication. She also handled the marketing of Disney home videos.
In her new post Black, who is relocating to New York, will
also oversee the digital Lifetime Movie Network. She, unlike McCormick, is an unknown
quantity on Madison Avenue.
"It's interesting that they're taking
someone without a national reputation and putting her in that spot," said Ellen
Oppenheim, senior vice president and media director at Foote, Cone & Belding in New
York. "I'm sure that they're paying attention to Oxygen, and they have a
window of opportunity now to define who they are."
In Los Angeles, Dennis Holt, chairman and founder of
Western Initiative Media Worldwide, is one of Black's fans.
"She a Renaissance lady," he said.
"She's beautiful, smart, charming and tough as hell. Carol's a great
Divney, as an ad-sales veteran, is familiar to Madison
Avenue, but he isn't as well-known in the MSO community, where he said he aims to
build relationships and to bump up Comedy's distribution.
But he pointed out that he does know a number of cable
operators, meeting many of them when he was overseeing affiliate sales at Comedy in the
During his career, Divney has also done stints at MTV:
Music Television, Cable News Network and A&E Network.
Before picking Divney, MTV Networks chairman Tom Freston
and Home Box Office Inc. chairman Jeff Bewkes, who sit on Comedy's board, talked with
a number of candidates.
These included: Spy magazine creator Kurt Anderson;
former David Letterman producer Robert Morton; and Jeff Ross, executive producer of
NBC' s Late Night with Conan O'Brien.
"The continuity of the management would seem to bode
well for the network," said Patty McCaskill, vice president of programming at Charter
Communications. "It's better than bringing in someone new."
Divney said that while Herzog, who is now head of Fox
Entertainment, brought programming ideas and vision to Comedy, the next task is to expand
That includes exploiting ancillary opportunities to the
fullest, such as licensing, building international sales, taking The Daily Show with
Jon Stewart to the next level and creating original programming with "an
afterlife," he added.
Some operators have complained that Comedy is a
"one-trick pony" with South Park, but Divney said it has plenty of
ratings winners -- such as Dr. Katz: Professional Therapist, WinBen
Stein's Money and The Daily Show --even though South Park
has overshadowed them.
Last year, Comedy's primetime ratings rose to a 0.7,
up 40 percent from the prior year's 0.5, according to Nielsen Media Research. In
primetime last year, Lifetime was up 7 percent, to a 1.6 from a 1.5.
Lifetime's ad-sales revenue is particularly strong,
with $389 million projected this year by Paul Kagan Associates Inc. But its license-fee
revenue has shown a far less impressive performance, behind other networks, with $104
million projected this year by Kagan.
According to Comedy, it generated $126 million in ad
revenue last year, well above projections.
No replacement was named for Divney last week.
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