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The Pendulum Swings Back

The MCN 2017 Gatekeepers: Dish’s Andrew LeCuyer: Starting the ‘Hard Conversation’|Mediacom’s Italia Commisso Weinand: ‘Do the Right Thing’|WOW’s Roger Seiken: ‘It Has to Be a Win-Win’|A Veteran Gatekeeper For a New Distributor

Summing up the current state of programming in a simple sentence, the sometimes controversial but always erudite Sanford Bernstein media analyst Todd Juenger last month told a crowd of small and midsized cable operators, “Maybe content is king, but television networks are not content.”

Networks, Juenger argued during a talk at last month’s The Independent Show in Indianapolis, are aggregators of content. And aggregators are increasingly losing their once-tight grip on the pay TV landscape, as subscriber losses increase and advertising revenue dwindles.

It looks as if, finally, the pendulum is starting to swing in favor of distribution.

That, too, is another maybe. Traditional multichannel video programming distributors are gaining leverage, but nobody buys cable service to stare at the fiber network. Content is still key to the overall package. It’s just that the packages are changing.

Younger consumers, weaned on ad-free subscription video-on-demand services like Netflix, are increasingly expecting the same functionality from pay TV. That has led to a new flexibility in carriage talks.

Programmers, which just a few years ago vehemently opposed skinny bundles when they were first introduced, now embrace the concept. Distributors, which in the past have chafed over having to buy a full suite of networks or nothing at all, are finding more and more programmers willing to loosen that bundle and even develop new content to help differentiate against competitive, lower priced offerings from over-the-top players.

In some cases, programmers have been more flexible about their networks, Mediacom Communications executive vice president of programming and human resources Italia Commisso Weinand said. She noted NBCUniversal’s willingness to shut down some less profitable networks, including Cloo, Esquire Network and Universal HD. But she warned distributors not to be complacent. “The wars are not over,” she said, adding that consolidation and subscriber losses are forcing content companies to reset rates more often. “You can work through consolidation; you can’t work through customers not coming back.

“If you look at the video universe, we had 100 million homes once upon a time,” she said. “There aren’t 100 million homes anymore; on a good day there’s maybe 85 million. Truly, cord-cutting has had an impact. That’s lost revenue for the networks; how do [they] get it back? Charge the same customers more money.”

Though the conflict between content providers and distribution methods may rage on, the battlefields are changing. In April, Charter Communications landed a deal with AMC Networks for exclusive content developed just for the two partners’ use. The first content installment from that partnership is expected in 2018.

As part of the agreement, Charter will have an exclusive initial U.S. window to the co-produced content for use on its own platform, while AMC Studios will retain subsequent rights, including the right to distribute the programming internationally. In June, Charter also began beta-testing Spectrum Stream, a sports-free skinny bundle that offers 25 channels for $19.95 per month. Comcast also struck a unique, exclusive deal with AMC Networks, which is providing the MSO with AMC Premiere, an ad-free version of its AMC cable channel available to Xfinity TV subscribers for $4.99 per month.

Smaller operators are encouraged by those developments, but see them as experiments more than anything else. Those operators also have some physical constraints — AMC Premiere would require bandwidth many small operators don’t possess.

Perhaps that attitude is helped along by the fact there aren’t many major deals up for negotiation. Charter’s deal with The Walt Disney Co. is expected to expire by the end of this year, but for the most part operators are focusing on retrans deals.

For smaller operators, some retrans relief may be coming from their buying co-op, the National Cable Television Cooperative. It has said it expects to begin negotiations soon for its members, 850 companies and nearly 10 million subscribers.

NCTC member WideOpenWest is still working through whether to participate in the group’s retrans negotiations, but believes the representation could be beneficial to small operators, senior vice president of programming Roger Seiken said.

“This is a huge service to their members,” Seiken said. “Those deals are tough if you don’t have a lot of subscribers; it’s tough to do the best job you can. Having an advocate like [NCTC CEO] Rich Fickle and [NCTC senior vice president of programming] Judy [Meyka] by your side negotiating those deals — it’s a great honor. I’m very excited about that.”

With the media landscape changing faster than the polar icecap, Multichannel News takes its annual look at the decision-makers for top pay TV distributors across the country, listed by number of video subscribers: The 2017 Gatekeepers.

EVP and Chief Content Officer

If its $108.7 billion deal to acquire Time Warner Inc. passes regulatory muster, AT&T won’t just be the largest content licensor in the world, it will be one of the largest content owners.

Once the deal is approved, AT&T will control more than 25 million video customers through satellite provider DirecTV, telco TV platform U-verse TV and virtual MVPD DirecTV Now, and will own iconic content brands like HBO, TBS, CNN and Cartoon Network.

As executive vice president and chief content officer for AT&T Entertainment Group, Daniel York and his team will oversee content acquisition for the distribution properties.

York, who was named to his current role in 2012, is a veteran of the business who oversees AT&T’s content and programming activities across all platforms, including satellite, mobile, online and IPTV.

He leads strategy, investments, negotiations, acquisitions, operations, development and original content, as well as NFL Sunday Ticket, Red Zone and Fantasy Zone content. York also manages the company’s four regional sports networks and the Audience Network, all Emmy award winners. Previously, York was chief content officer for DirecTV, where he oversaw similar functions.

Prior to joining DirecTV, he was president of AT&T content and advertising sales, where he developed the telco’s original content strategy, oversaw multiplatform content and ad sales activities, and helped build U-verse TV into the fastest-growing video provider in the U.S., going from zero to more than 5 million customers and $10 billion in annual revenue in under six years.

Before AT&T, York was head of programming and development for In Demand Networks, the leading video-on-demand, out-of-market sports package and pay-per-view provider. He began his career with HBO, where he worked for more than 12 years; in his last position there, he was responsible for distribution, marketing, sponsorship, content acquisitions and operations for HBO Sports’s pay-per-view business.

York is based at AT&T Entertainment Group headquarters in Los Angeles.

EVP, Content Acquisition

Since coming from Charter Communications in 2010, Comcast Cable executive vice president of content acquisition Greg Rigdon has been part of some of the industry’s landmark deals — including Comcast’s 2012 renewal with The Walt Disney Co., which helped set the tone and template for years to come.

Rigdon oversees the strategic direction of the company’s content portfolio, including the negotiation of programming agreements for cable systems.

Among his recent accomplishments, in January Comcast ended a years-long dispute with 21st Century Fox’s YES Network, returning the regional sports network to Comcast’s New York-area customers. It had been dark since November 2015.

That deal also included continued carriage of Fox News Channel. Terms were not disclosed, but reports put the four-year pact for Fox News at about $1.50 per subscriber per month initially, with annual increases.

Also in January, the cable operator completed a comprehensive carriage deal with Spanish-language broadcaster Univision that also included broadcast network UniMás and cable network Galavisión, as well as its owned-and-operated stations.

The rest of the year is expected to be a bit more quiet; no major network renewals are expected.

Before joining Comcast, Rigdon was Charter’s executive vice president, programming, business development and strategy. He also previously held senior roles in programming strategy, business affairs and commerce at AOL.

Rigdon has a bachelor’s degree with high honors from Oberlin College and a master’s degree in Russian studies from Princeton University.

KEY LIEUTENANTS: Jennifer Gaiski, senior vice president, content acquisition; Sarah Gitchell, senior vice president/deputy general counsel; Justin Smith, senior vice president, content acquisition

Senior EVP

David Ellen joined Charter as senior executive vice president in 2016, but he has already been involved in some major deals.

Earlier this year, Charter settled a months-long legal dispute with 21st Century Fox over how its programming contracts are interpreted. Court documents in July indicated the suit had been “discontinued with prejudice,” and though neither side would comment, it appeared the suit had been settled.

In addition, Fox Networks Group channels, including the Fox broadcast network, FX, National Geographic and the Fox Sports-owned RSNs, apparently reached a deal at the same time. Those networks’ deals expired in April, but they had remained on the air through several extensions. While no formal announcement of a deal has come, Charter systems are still carrying the channels.

Ellen was also instrumental in a less-contentious deal, the AMC Networks content partnership announced in April that calls for Charter and AMC to co-produce, co-develop and co-fund original programming that will initially run exclusively on Charter systems. The first content from that agreement is expected to debut next year.

Ellen oversees several Charter business and corporate functions, including programming, Spectrum Networks, human resources, communications, diversity, security, regulatory policy support and compliance, and legal support for several of those areas.

He joined Charter from Cablevision Systems (now part of Altice USA), where he served as executive vice president and general counsel. Before Cablevision, Ellen served as deputy general counsel at IAC, the multi-brand media and internet company.

Earlier in his career, Ellen worked at the Federal Communications Commission and before that was a law clerk for now-retired Justice Sandra Day O’Connor at the U.S. Supreme Court. He also clerked for Justices Stephen Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg when they were each on the U.S. Court of Appeals.

He received a bachelor’s degree from Harvard College; a law degree from Harvard Law School, where he was president of the Harvard Law Review; and a master’s degree from Cambridge University, where he was a Marshall Scholar.

EVP, Programming Acquisition

Tom Montemagno joined Charter Communications as executive vice president, programming acquisition, in 2016 and leads its negotiations with a full range of content providers, from major multichannel media companies and sports networks to local broadcasters. He negotiates all facets of Charter’s programming offerings, including on-demand and home-streaming rights on multiple platforms.

Montemagno joined Charter from Cablevision, where he most recently served as executive vice president of programming. During his 27-year tenure, he held such leadership positions as senior vice president of programming acquisition. He was Cablevision’s lead negotiator with content companies.

Montemagno has a bachelor’s degree in marketing from St. John’s University in New York.

KEY LIEUTENANTS: David Lange, group vice president, programming acquisition; Andrew Rosenberg, senior vice president, programming acquisition; Adam Weinstein, senior vice president, programming acquisition

EVP, Marketing, Programming and Media Sales

A veteran advertising and media executive, Warren Schlichting oversees the acquisition and renewal of all programming content for Dish Network, including national networks and cable channels, Latino content, local broadcast stations, and premium services such as HBO, Showtime and Starz. Schlichting also oversees Dish’s national marketing efforts and Dish Media Sales, the company’s advertising-sales division.

Prior to joining Dish in 2011, Schlichting led Comcast’s advanced advertising efforts on multiple media and ad delivery platforms, including broadband, interactive television and video-on-demand. Before arriving at Comcast, he was CEO of Hiwire, a Los Angeles-based technology company that provided online ad replacement software for Clear Channel and other radio station groups. He also served in executive positions for Morgan Stanley and the William E. Simon private-equity group.

Schlichting graduated with honors with a degree in Economics from Harvard University, where he was a four-year member of the varsity football team.

KEY LIEUTENANTS: Josh Clark, vice president of programming; Izabela Slowikowska, vice president of international programming; Melisa Ordonez, director of programming acquisition; Ankit Bishnoi, content acquisition for Sling TV

SVP, Programming

As Dish’s senior vice president of programming, Andy LeCuyer leads the acquisition and renewal of programming content for Dish and Sling TV. In this role, he leads general entertainment, local broadcast, sports, movie studio and Latino content acquisition, including securing satellite and digital rights (encompassing traditional linear, video-on-demand, TV everywhere and OTT), as well as programming operations.

LeCuyer joined Dish in 2011 as director of programming, overseeing local retransmission relationships nationwide. Soon after, he assumed responsibility for premium, pay-per-view and international programming.

Most recently, LeCuyer led multiple negotiations to secure landmark programming agreements for the launch of Sling TV, the U.S. pay TV industry’s first live over-the-top television service.

Prior to joining Dish, LeCuyer served as vice president of strategic planning for a consumer electronics retailer. Additionally, he spent more than four years as a management consultant for McKinsey, covering a wide range of industries including retail and IT services.

LeCuyer earned a bachelor’s degree in engineering from Princeton University and a master’s in business administration from Yale School of Management. Following ROTC training during his undergraduate studies, he was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, where he served four years in progressive leadership roles and achieved the rank of captain.

EVP, Programming

Judy Meyka, executive vice president of programming for the National Cable Television Cooperative, has spent more than 24 years in the cable television industry. In her current role with the NCTC, she leads the negotiation of video content acquisition agreements across multiple formats and platforms on behalf of more than 800 independent video distributors.

Meyka has been a central part of several key programming negotiations for NCTC members. Last year, the co-op successfully negotiated a deal with AMC Networks that didn’t force members to carry  all six of the programmer’s networks on their most popular tiers, a key development.

Later this year, the NCTC plans to take an even bigger bull by the horns: negotiating its members’ retransmission-consent deals with broadcast groups. Previously, Meyka served in several executive leadership positions, most recently as senior vice president, programming, for Adelphia Communications.

Prior to joining Adelphia, she was senior vice president, distribution, for In Demand and also worked as vice president, programming, for cable distributors AT&T Broadband and MediaOne Group.

Meyka is a graduate of the University of Michigan and received her law degree from the University of Denver College of Law.

KEY LIEUTENANTS: Stewart Myers, vice president, programming; Shelley Thompson, vice president, programming

Head of Content Acquisition and Programming

Erin McPherson joined Verizon last December from short-form video pioneer Maker Studios. As head of the telco’s content activities, she oversees programming, strategic partnerships and original content across distribution platforms including Fios, OTT initiatives, IPTV, Oath, Go90, wireless and 5G.

McPherson replaced long-time Verizon content chief Terry Denson. She reports directly to Brian Angiolet, senior vice president of consumer products and new business development.

Prior to Maker, McPherson was vice president/head of video programming and originals at Yahoo, where she grew the company’s original video roster to more than 80 ongoing series.

McPherson graduated magna cum laude from Harvard Law School and received her bachelor’s degree, magna cum laude, from Middlebury College.

SVP, Programming

Cox Communications senior vice president of programming Andrew Albert oversees all video provider relationships and content acquisition, and has led the MSO’s carriage negotiations with such content producers as The Walt Disney Co., Turner, NBCUniversal, Viacom and 21st Century Fox.

Albert is actively involved in setting Cox’s video product strategy, including the deployment of TV everywhere, video-on-demand and high-definition services, as well as the company’s multicultural programming strategy.

Albert joined Cox in 1995 as director of programming and was promoted to executive director of programming in 2002. The following year he was promoted to vice president. He has served in his current role since 2013.

Prior to joining Cox, Albert was director of programming and director of budgets and financial analysis for TeleCable in Norfolk, Va. Before that he was in the financial management program with General Electric, where he served as a sales and marketing analyst.

KEY LIEUTENANTS: Suzanne Fenwick, vice president, content acquisition; Mark Gathen, vice president, content acquisition; Chris Tygh, vice president, content acquisition

EVP and Chief Content Officer

About one year after European telecom company Altice N.V. purchased Cablevision Systems, making it the fourth-largest U.S. cable operator, Altice USA debuted as a separate, publicly traded stock. With its new currency, executive vice president and chief content officer Michael Schreiber, who joined the company from Comcast in 2016, could have even more clout with programmers as the potential for additional industry consolidation increases.

Schreiber is up to the task. Shortly after Altice announced a corporate-wide rebranding, Schreiber and his team cut a new programming deal with Viacom that not only returned more than a dozen of its youth-oriented channels to Altice USA’s Suddenlink Communications unit after a two-year hiatus, but brought new advanced advertising capabilities to the U.S. operations.

Schreiber is responsible for all programming-related developments, negotiations and agreements covering all content platforms company-wide. In addition to the Viacom partnership, he has forged deals with major programmers and broadcasters across the Optimum and Suddenlink footprints.

Prior to joining Altice USA, Schreiber was senior vice president of content acquisition for Comcast, where he led the execution of new media and digital content deals. He was one of the lead negotiators of key programming agreements and renewals, and oversaw acquisition for platforms including VOD, TV everywhere, Streampix, Watchable and advanced advertising.

Before joining Comcast, Schreiber worked at NBCUniversal, most recently as vice president, business development, digital distribution. He also assisted in the founding, development and launch of Hulu.

KEY LIEUTENANTS: Alan Dannenbaum, senior vice president, programming (a Comcast veteran); Bradley Fleisher, senior vice president, programming (a Time Warner Cable and NBCU veteran)

EVP, Programming and Human Resources

Since joining Mediacom Communications as its third employee, Italia Commisso Weinand has worked alongside Rocco Commisso, her brother and fellow cable hall of famer, to build Mediacom into the nation’s fifth-largest cable operator, serving almost 1.4 million customers.

As the company embarked on a series of major acquisitions, Italia’s insight and experience allowed the company’s early operations, human resources, marketing and programming policies. Understanding that Mediacom needed to attract and retain an employee workforce of dedicated and proficient individuals, she developed a family-oriented corporate culture based on fairness, diversity and career growth.

It is a policy that has paid off, as Mediacom has grown from fewer than 20 employees in 1996 to more than 4,700 today.

Commisso Weinand began her 40-year cable career at Time Warner Cable in New York, and worked for Comcast immediately prior to becoming a founding member of Mediacom. Throughout her professional life, she has committed to numerous charitable causes, including Habitat for Humanity, Hope Through Care, Lake Drive School of the Deaf and the Knights of Columbus.

A Cable TV Pioneer, Commisso Weinand was named to the 2004 Wonder Women class by Multichannel News and Women in Cable Telecommunications. In addition to serving on Mediacom’s board, she is a board member for The Cable Center and The Emma L. Bowen Foundation and a past board member of Cable Positive and WICT.

KEY LIEUTENANTS: Barry Paden, group vice president, programming; Joseph Appio, vice president, programming; John Woods, vice president, advanced consumer services; Glenn Goldsmith, consultant

SVP, Programming Roger Seiken joined WOW in March following long-time programming chief Peter Smith’s retirement a few months earlier. Based in Denver, Seiken will manage content provider relationships and oversee all programming negotiations with cable networks and broadcasters.

Prior to joining WOW, Seiken spent more than 12 years at Verizon, where he led the business and legal affairs effort for content acquisition for Verizon’s Fios TV, mobile and digital video platforms. As an original member of the Fios TV team, he helped that business grow from a start-up video service to a top MVPD with more than 5 million subscribers.

Prior to Verizon, Seiken worked for Discovery Communications in both affiliate sales and legal affairs roles. Before that he practiced corporate and securities law at Hogan Lovells and at Fried, Frank in Washington, D.C.

KEY LIEUTENANTS: Robin Feller, director of programming; Jim Waechter, programming financial analyst