Cable Hot List 2010

By deftly landing Conan O’Brien after NBC’s ham-handed handling of the late-night host, TBS pierced a veil that has long hung between the broadcast networks and the cable cousins they’ve historically looked down upon.

In the past decade, cable nets like TBS, USA, FX and others have proven they can program dramas, sitcoms and even reality on par with the Big Four. But star power—the talent wattage fueling ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox’s klieg lights for so long—has only appeared on cable as random flashes of brilliance. Now, with a legit late-night host on a fully distributed cable network five nights a week starting this November, cable has arrived. For landing Coco and Co., TBS itself alights to the No. 1 position on AdweekMedia’s 2010 Cable Hot List. Competition for that slot, as Mediaweek senior editor Anthony Crupi thoroughly catalogs, was keen.

USA (No. 2 on the list after being tops for the prior two years) recorded a near-perfect track record of originals. And powered by the ratings juggernaut that is WWE, USA will have an impressive slate of seven original series running by end of year.  Cable’s long-standing connection to sports has paid massive dividends. To wit, ESPN (No. 3) and TNT (No. 4) as well as MLB Network, NFL Network and Golf Channel (Nos. 3, 5 and 10 on our 10 Under 75 Million subs list) all saw ratings and revenue gains driven by the rights they hold. ABC Family and History also continued to revamp to the benefit of their ratings and bottom lines.

In the case of History president and gm Nancy Dubuc, profiled on the next page by contributing writer T.L. Stanley, that success has led to a new assignment: fix struggling sister AETN net Lifetime. Finally, thanks in part to Jersey Shore famebots Snooki and The Situation, MTV, cable’s icon of counter programming, is back on the national radar and on our list for the first time at No. 10. We hope Martha Quinn will be proud. —The Editors

Methodology: Each network on the 2010 AdweekMedia Cable Hot List was assessed in the context of eight categories: ad revenue (SNL Kagan); Nielsen ratings (deliveries relative to the previous year, with an emphasis on guaranteed demos); programming slate (established/ upcoming series); strength of the executive suite (weighted toward ad sales and programming); brand equity (Beta Research surveys); affiliate revenue; buzz (consumer/ trade ink); and intangibles, a catchall that incorporates the likelihood of future success. By weight, ad revenue was the single most impactful metric, accounting for 25 percent of each score. Ratings and programming together accounted for 40 percent, followed by suits, brands, affiliate fees (25 percent). Buzz and intangibles kicked in the remainder.

1. TBS

Having bum-rushed the broadcast upfront party the past two years running, David Levy and Steve Koonin aren’t exactly a pair of shrinking violets. But in drawing NBC outcast Conan O’Brien to basic cable and landing a deal that gives Turner and CBS joint custody of the NCAA men’s basketball tourney, the Turner ad sales chief and programming guru truly outdid themselves this spring. O’Brien’s new 11 p.m. TBS show bows in November, and it’s poised to be a transformative moment for the net. If choreographed ursine onanism was fair game at NBC, one can only imagine what sort of inspired silliness O’Brien’s writers will unleash in their new cable digs. But it’s safe to say that the move will make TBS a must-buy for clients targeting young viewers in late night. Meanwhile, Koonin is mulling over a quartet of one-hour comedy pilots to serve as a lead-in, including a project starring Office Space alum Gary Cole.