Some of the key moments on the second day of the 2010 Realscreen Summit included the keynotes from A&E Television Networks (AETN) president and CEO Abbe Raven and Electus founder and CEO Ben Silverman and the featured interview with the Oprah Winfrey Network’s CEO Christina Norman.
Christina Norman appeared at the Summit in a conversation session with realscreen editor Barry Walsh in which she discussed her path to OWN, her vision for the channel’s identity and the programming slots they’ve already developed.
The programming themes she identified include three different categories: one theme features programming which takes a look at the human experience, looking at the world through different characters’ eyes; another would focus on aspirational programming that aids in making dreams come true and, finally, a wellness category which focuses on using one’s resources to transform one’s own life.
The channel’s launch was delayed over a year to the current date of January 2011 because, as Norman says, ‘I think you should launch something when it’s ready.’ As the channel gets closer to its launch date, when asked what she didn’t want the network to be seen as, she simply replied, ‘Earnest.’ She doesn’t want to deliver ‘spinach;’ rather, she feels the channel needs to be provocative and even edgy while delivering programming featuring people who are in a perpetual state of improving their lives, and passionate people doing innovative things. When asked how producers should pitch to her channel she said, ‘With heart and conviction,’ and offered the producers in the audience to approach her or her team after the session.
In Raven’s keynote conversation with friend Stephen Land, president of Jupiter Entertainment, she spoke about the revamping of AETN’s key brands such as A&E, History and the addition of Lifetime to the portfolio. The rebrand of A&E came about, she said, because the network was ‘aging out’ and she felt it was time to attract a new audience by energizing the key values of the network, which led to what she deems was the biggest risk for the channel,Intervention. While concerned about the reaction of advertisers and affiliates to the graphic content in the program, in the end it was decided to go with the gut reaction which was, according to Raven, ‘Oh my God, we have to do that show.’ The critical and audience response to the program and subsequent Emmy win showed them they were right, with Raven saying it’s provided A&E with a rare chance to change people’s lives through television.
While she discussed embracing new platforms, at the same time, she doesn’t think TV is going anywhere, adding that she believes viewers are still willing to pay for cable.
Later in the afternoon, Ben Silverman, former NBC Entertainment and Universal Media Studios co-chairman and now the founder and CEO of Electus, took the stage before a packed room. With Electus, a partnership with Barry Diller’s IAC, the onus is on new models of content creation. The announcement of Electus Distribution, a partnership with Shine International that brings Silverman back together with Shine International prez and friend Chris Grant (one of Silverman’s assistants at Reveille, also at the Summit), also points towards what Silverman calls a new kind of distributor. The distro arm will handle worldwide sales for content developed or brought to the table by Electus, with advertisers being brought into the mix early. That’s in keeping with the advertiser-conscious approach that Silverman has brought to all of his endeavors, from his launching of Reveille to his time with the Interpublic Group in 2003.
While Silverman joked that he’s tired of having ‘founder’ attached to his name repeatedly, he said it’s indicative of a mindset that he feels more producers should employ, that of being both a ‘storyteller and an entrepreneur.’ Judging by the amount of people lending an ear to his address, it’s an idea that’s picking up momentum.