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Plugging into cable

US CABLE: As US cable pushes further into original programming, C21 kicks off a series of articles exploring the opportunities and challenges facing channels, producers and executives.

The Firm

The Firm

As the dust settles on another season of US broadcast Upfronts, attention has turned to the cable networks.

Summer has long been the traditional time for cable channels to launch new series, as their terrestrial rivals line up reality shows and repeats before rolling out their fall season schedules.

Fighting for a share of an audience that is finding an increasing number of ways to watch content, cable channels are being forced to carve out niches in an effort to stand out from the crowd.

For infant channels still finding their feet, this means commissioning original content that can line up against off-net reruns. More established networks, however, are turning to scripted drama to build their own reputations and are collating a library of content that can stand as a masthead for their brands.

This strategy won acclaim for movie net AMC, which is now the home of Mad Men, Hell on Wheels and The Walking Dead, and was the reason factual-skewing History recently broke cable viewing records with family feud miniseries Hatfields & McCoys.

In C21’s US Cable Season, broadcasters and producers will discuss the opportunities and challenges currently facing the cable business, from original programming and financing their content to the prospect of building international partnerships.

One platform commissioning original drama for the first time is DirecTV, which has ordered Rogue, the story of a female cop and her relationship with an underworld crime boss. Nick Hamm, from coproducer Greenroom Entertainment, tells C21 why the broadcast network model is broken and what they can learn from cable channels.

The Walking Dead

The Walking Dead

Canada’s Entertainment One Television produced The Firm and Saving Hope for NBC, and chief executive John Morayniss discusses some of the funding possibilities now available in the US and through international coproductions.

Craig Cegielski, president of GK-TV, believes signature series can be appointment TV for cable networks, while David Madden, president of Fox Television Studios, says cable networks have to be bold and brave in order to attract viewers.

Other contributors will include ReelzChannel CEO Stan E Hubbard, who talks about the challenge of attracting viewers; John Penney, executive VP of strategy and business development at premium pay-TV network Starz; and Rob Sharenow, exec VP of original programming at Lifetime Networks.

Of course, Upfronts are no longer solely the realm of the broadcast networks, with cable channels including TBS, TNT and USA holding their own presentations for advertisers.

And this growing trend was compounded by digital platforms such as Hulu and YouTube holding their own events, while the growing popularity of watching TV online means these services, plus Netflix, also threaten the future of the entire cable business.

We will also consider how much longer cable will have the summer to itself, as networks increasingly order new series to carry their most loyal viewers through to the fall.

As US cable channels battle for ratings and ad dollars, what kind of future does the business face? Let’s find out.

This feature is part of C21’s US Cable Programming season, a collection of articles about what’s in development at US cablenets and what their move into original drama means for studios and broadcasters. Click here for more.

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