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A Veteran Gatekeeper for a New Distributor

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Lindsay Gardner has been around the block long enough to know what’s what in the programming business.

A veteran of both sides of the negotiating table, Gardner has probably forgotten more about the business than most will ever learn. He was at Fox Networks Group for eight years through 2007, eventually rising to president, affiliate sales and marketing, and spent six years at Cox Communications, including time as executive director, programming. He also served as executive director, planning and new business, at In Demand, the MSO-backed provider of pay-per-view and video-on-demand services.

Now as chief content officer for Layer3 TV, a startup that piggybacks a video service onto incumbent broadband networks, offering a full-freight video service and top-notch customer service it calls “concierge cable,” Gardner is entering a new chapter in a long and illustrious career. But even though the jobs and roles have changed over the years, Gardner has learned a very important lesson about the programming business: You don’t get what you don’t ask for, and you don’t get anything if you don’t ask nicely.

“[It’s] walking into [A+E Networks president of distribution] David Zagin’s office with my palms up and saying, ‘We love A+E, we love Lifetime, we love Viceland, would you work with us?’” Gardner said. “A lot of it is just asking, and everybody comes through.”

For Layer3 TV, that approach is forging unique partnerships with programmers. Gardner said he receives an unprecedented level of support from content providers, ranging from appearances by Nickelodeon characters at launches to billboards touting programming.

“ESPN has turned over its whole website homepage in our markets, promoting us,” Gardner added. “Pac-12 Networks takes out billboards screaming that we’re the exclusive place to find the USCUCLA baseball game in HD. Right down the line, partly because we’re new — and they love that we carry all of their channels in HD, that we have the best picture quality, that our guide seems to have licked and solved the problem of there’s 500 channels and nothing on — and partly because we’ve asked nicely.”

Layer3 TV currently is available in five markets — Chicago; Los Angeles; Washington; Dallas, Texas; and Longmont, Colo. — and is readying a sixth launch in New York. The service offers about 250 channels, including several in 4K with more to come.

The product is unique in that, in a climate where every new entrant is touting lower costs and skinnier packages, Layer3 TV is offering more. Gardner said that’s just what its customers want.

“They love cable,” Gardner said of Layer3 customers. “They’re looking for something better, and we become their new cable company.”

And that means, in an era when most distributors want to break up the programming bundle, Gardner wants everything — and he means everything — a content provider has to offer.

For example, Layer3 is working with The Weather Channel on new leading-edge apps and 4K content for the channel, which it plans to add shortly. With The Tennis Channel, Layer3 is working on providing a value-added package that will show all seven courts at Roland Garros for next year’s French Open. And in a deal with Fox, Layer3 is airing all of 30 sports events the network is producing in 4K this year.

Other programmers are using Layer3 as a test bed for emerging technologies or offerings. Gardner mentioned tests for mini a la carte packages that would take one specific show or genre and offer content tailored only around that specific theme.

“It’s possible to assemble assets in a way that is tailored for individual passions, and there is value in it, and we’re quietly testing those sorts of initiatives,” Gardner said.