The decision by Barry Diller, chairman and CEO of USA Networks, to name Channel 4 top gun Michael Jackson president of USA Entertainment caught many by surprise. But, not Patrick Vien, USA Cable’s president of emerging networks. Says Vien, ‘He has the most important media job – from a content standpoint – in all of England, and has embraced U.S. television and media programming probably more than any other important European media executive. Had it been someone else from across the pond, it might have been a surprise, but because it’s Michael it really wasn’t.’
As head of USA Entertainment, a newly created post, Jackson will oversee Studios USA, USA Films and USA Cable (which includes new nets Trio, Crime and Newsworld International). He is also charged with building bridges between USA Entertainment and the company’s other key area, the Interactive Group. Jackson reports directly to Diller.
Jackson’s track record of hits at C4, including Big Brother and 1900 House, means he will face high expectations, particularly with the emerging networks. Says Vien, ‘Channel 4 has this unique position in the market as completely commercially available to consumers but with a fabric of intelligence to it. And in so far as we’re building a popular arts channel [Trio] and a sister non-fiction service in Newsworld, that’s precisely what we’ve wanted to do.’ Jackson’s background in arts and music – he headed up the BBC’s arts and music department before going on to head up first BBC2 and later BBC1 – is an added bonus. ‘He’s got specific experience in the general arts and entertainment category that will make him an enthusiastic contributor.’
Despite Jackson’s experience, Vien hopes he’ll bring with him an entirely new approach: ‘I think that what made Channel 4 successful is not just a formula that you can replicate in the United States…they are indeed different cultures.’