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Cable Execs at NCTA: There's a World of Opportunity in the Off-Seasons

Technology is dramatically altering the focus of cable programmers and marketers on traditional seasons, creating a demand for more serialized stories and focusing efforts on promoting programs after they have already aired, three top execs told a cable industry conference in Washington on Monday.

"The off-season is not the off-season any more," Joshua Sapan, president-CEO of AMC Networks, said during a panel discussion at the National Cable and Telecommunications Assn. annual Cable Show. He described how second-screen activities -- from Twitter to webisodes discussing programs that have aired -- are being used increasingly to boost long term interest and ratings for AMC programs.

"One of the most interesting things happening in TV is what happens between seasons. We have all seen 'Homeland' and other shows build between seasons and you come back to linear television and it is up 30 to 50 percent in seasons 4 and 5. That is a rich, rich, rich opportunity to expand a fan base and an audience," he said. "So I think every piece of technology is an opportunity to expand the audience and the calendar is not quite the calendar any more."

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Anne Sweeney, co-chair, Disney Media Networks and president, Disney/ABC Television Group, and Matthew Blank, chairman and CEO of Showtime, offered similar views.

"Serialized television really benefits from all of this technology," said Sweeney. "We know consumers love our brands. We know they love our programming. We know they want to hold them in their hands. They want to take them wherever they go. We are making sure that they can do that."

Blank said that programmers have learned that they need to aim beyond getting more initial views of a program. He noted that nearly 80 per cent of Showtime's 'Nurse Jackie' watch the program on video on demand or other means after an episode airs.

"What we see almost universally is higher ratings for the final episode of a show than the first episode," he said, suggesting that enabling Web and social media chat about a program increases viewing. "It just makes those shows more important, more interesting. It brings more people into the tent."

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The comments of the three followed a panel discussion that included Twitter COO Ali Rowghani, who said that Twitter considered cable programmers to be informal partners because so much of its traffic is TV related.

"We see ourselves as a compliment," he said. "Among the technology companies of our ilk, you are not going to find a bigger fan than Twitter."

He said that Twitter is engaged in building platforms to offer users a "complimentary experience" to their TV viewing.