Why Cable’s TCA Still Matters

For independent and niche-targeted cable networks, it’s tough to stand out from peak television’s burgeoning crowd. Such programmers are counting on this week’s cable portion of the nearly three-week Television Critics Association Winter Press Tour to put themselves in the spotlight.

Durning the two-day cable schedule (Jan. 13-14), more than 30 cable networks and streaming services will present their new and current scripted and reality shows to the more than 200 TCA member writers gathered in Pasadena, Calif. The cable sessions are facilitated by the Cable & Telecommunications Association for Marketing.

Get complete coverage of the 2017 Winter Press Tour.

The Winter TCA, which officially launched last Thursday (Jan. 5) with presentations from the broadcast networks, generated headlines this past November when NBC, ABC and CBS decided to eliminate the tour’s traditional executive panels. Those sessions allow reporters to ask executives about industry trends and upcoming show developments.

Premium programmer Starz, as well as streaming services Amazon and Netflix, decided to sit out the winter tour, leading some industry observers to question the event’s continued news value.

But Reelz, WGN America and other small players set to present this week say TCA is an invaluable forum to get the word out on their upcoming projects.

“TCA is critical because an independent network doesn’t have the reach and clout that the big conglomerates have for their broadcast and cable networks to speak to media of all shapes and sizes,” Reelz CEO Stan Hubbard said. The network will look to promote its upcoming miniseries The Kennedys — After Camelot, starring Katie Holmes and Matthew Perry.

“TCA provides to an opportunity for an independent network like Reelz to really put our best foot forward in a forum that would otherwise be difficult for us to duplicate,” he said.

The tour gives WGN America, which will promote its drama series Underground and Outsiders at TCA, a means to reach out to entertainment media alongside larger network and streaming service competitors.

“In a world of 400-plus scripted shows, not to mention the competition of all other forms of entertainment, TCA is an opportunity to take an audience that comprises the majority of the entertainment press and to capture their attention and imagination,” WGN America president and general manager Matt Cherniss said. “If your show and network can intrigue in an environment in which hundreds of shows, compressed in a few weeks, are attempting to set themselves apart from the crowd, then it’s a strong sign that the show can do the same for the audience as well.”

Even though it’s not scheduled to present a particular show, El Rey Network president and general manager Daniel Tibbets said the ability to talk to TV critics about the network’s development and future plans in an executive forum is important for the emerging network.

“TCA offers a great opportunity for me to have an actual conversation with critics from all over the country about our strategy, which is unique in this ever-shifting media landscape,” Tibbets said.

Even with opportunities to promote shows on digital platforms and through social media, Hubbard said there’s no substitute for talking and promoting television shows through forums that are TV-oriented.

“At the end of the day TV is TV,” Hubbard, who is also an investor in independent arts network Ovation TV, said. “YouTube is not TV, and TV is not YouTube.

“People still watch a lot of TV shows by sitting down and viewing it on a television set,” he said. “For a network like ours, it’s still about people watching television and that’s what advertisers still pay for, and that’s why TCA is so critical for us.”

R. Thomas Umstead

R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.