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Melinda Witmer

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There are television executives who spend their whole lives dreaming of working in the TV field, gradually working their way up from the mailroom to the top. Melinda Witmer took a different approach.

When Witmer, now executive VP and chief video and content officer at Time Warner Cable, was in law school, she didn’t think about television, or even entertainment law in general. “I wanted to be a real-estate mogul,” she says.

Witmer, a Southern California native, returned home after finishing law school at the University of Pennsylvania and began practicing real-estate law when love and geography changed her life. “Love brought me east,” she says. “I got engaged and moved to New York.” There she began working in a remote area of the law, dealing with aircraft financing.

It was quite a jump from there to HBO, after a friend suggested she interview for a job there. “I knew absolutely nothing about the cable business,” she recalls. “During the interview, I asked how the picture gets through the cables into televisions.” They hired her anyway, and upon arrival she asked, “Hey, do we own Showtime?”

But thanks to an “amazing series of mentors,” Witmer not only caught on but also crossed over. When she would sit in on studio deals or licensing agreements, she gradually began giving input not just on legal issues but on the projects themselves, a practice she got to continue when she jumped to TWC in 2001, before moving over to the programming side.

Recently, Witmer has devoted increasing attention to sports. Last year, when TWC’s deal with ABC/ESPN/Disney was up for renewal, she negotiated a new pact that incorporated the “TV Everywhere” philosophy to enable the MSO’s subscribers to access ESPN live simulcasts and a multitude of ESPN networks via computer.

This year, when she learned that the Los Angeles Lakers’ local-TV deal was expiring, she stepped in and came up with a unique plan, creating two regional sports networks for the NBA franchise—one in English and one in Spanish, featuring game coverage as well as original programming. “The Hispanic community is important for us, and they have a real desire for sports content in Spanish,” Witmer says.

Witmer’s most recent move was closer to home, but it will have an even bigger longterm impact. In the spring, TWC hired former Fox Sports executive David Rone as president of sports, reporting to Witmer. “To continue growing we need leadership, someone with a presence in the sports world,” she says of Rone.