A Master Juggler: Insight’s Griffith Keeps Her Eye on the Ball

Melani Griffith
Senior Vice President, Programming and Video Services
Insight Communications

As senior vice president of programming and video services at Insight Communications, Melani Griffith has a lot of balls in the air. She is responsible for the management and strategy of the video product, and for negotiating Insight’s programming contracts.

She divides her time between New York; Louisville, Ky.; and Montreal, which she calls home with her husband. “I travel a lot,” Griffith said. “But I use that time wisely.”

Griffith joined Insight in 2005 after working in ad sales at Fox Cable Networks and in affiliate sales at AMC Networks and Discovery Communications. It wasn’t long after she joined the MSO that she married William Black, a Canadian businessman living in Montreal. She negotiated with Insight’s top brass to spend one day a week in Montreal and the rest in New York and Louisville.

“Michael [Willner, Insight’s CEO] was worried I would find a job in Canada, but I promised him I wouldn’t do that,” she said. “A couple of years later, I was promoted to the position I have today.”

Griffith’s experience on the programming side of the business is just one of the things that make her valuable to Insight, Willner said.

“Melani is a dynamic hoot,” Willner said. “She is very committed and dedicated to her job, and that makes her valuable. Her level of intensity and intelligence is unusual. She has tremendous experience on the programming side of the business. And it’s very important to know how people on the other side of the table think.”

Griffith said her experience as a programming executive is beneficial to her today because “it allows me to … anticipate where programmers are going with negotiations,” she said. “We try to anticipate the potholes, and they can become more obvious if you have been on the other side of the business.”

It certainly helped when Insight was unraveling its partnership with Comcast and had to negotiate its own programming deals, Willner said. Griffith managed to seal dozens of contracts in a matter of months. In a world where it often takes several months to conclude just one contract, her accomplishment is particularly noteworthy, Willner said.

Griffith earned a bachelor’s degree in communications from the University of California at Los Angeles and a master’s degree in business administration from Columbia Business School. “Every day I learn something new from Michael, Chris [Slattery, executive vice president of operations] and Dinni [Jain, president and chief operating officer]. I should never have gone back to school to get my MBA. I’ve learned more from them than I ever did in school.”

But Griffith also appreciates the people she worked with and the experience she gained before she came to Insight. Kim Martin, currently president and general manager of WE TV, was Griffith’s first boss when she entered the cable business in 1995 and has been a significant mentor ever since. “Kim embodied what I wanted to become,” Griffith said.

Lynne Costantini, the longtime Time Warner Cable executive who’s now executive vice president of affiliate sales and marketing at Scripps Networks, was also a mentor. “When I came to the distribution side of the business, it was a totally different world for me. Lynne taught and guided me through it all. She helped me in a way that you’d pay a consultant thousands of dollars for.”

These days, Griffith tends to spend more time on the future “what ifs” than she does on programming rates or even retransmission-consent negotiations, which continue to be brutal, she said.

“We have so many challenges to capture today what might be happening tomorrow,” Griffith said.

For instance, retrans has become more complex and challenging with every renewal, Griffith said. Prioritizing can be challenging.

Griffith’s tasks also include figuring out which services the MSO will roll out in the future. Though she has a team to help, Insight’s resources are more limited than other MSOs.

“We constantly need to figure out where we want to focus,” she said. “Fortunately, I work with some of the smartest, most interesting and passionate people in the business.”

As a goal-oriented person, Griffith said, she finds a lot of satisfaction when a service rolls out or a new product is introduced to customers. There are few steps between the customer and the highest ranks at Insight, she said.

“We have monthly calls with our customer-care agents, and I visit our call centers regularly,” she said. “They are not shy about telling me what they are hearing from our customers, and we pay attention. We consistently craft our strategy based on customer feedback. We’re a very flat organization. It’s not hard to hear what the customers want. I spent 20 minutes on the phone the other day with a customer who wanted to talk to me about a channel she wanted us to add.”

When she isn’t on a plane somewhere or travelling between New York and Louisville, Griffith is in Montreal. She has learned to embrace winter weather and she and her husband spend a lot of time skiing and snowshoeing.

“I do love [Montreal],” Griffith said. “But as long as Insight will have me, I will continue to commute this way. I love working at Insight. In this day and age, it doesn’t really matter where you are as long as you can get the job done.”