CableU is honored to present Robert M. Ecker, VP Programming / Executive Producer, for the Speed Channel. Note: This is an interview from our archives that we are reposting for you to be included among our main executive interviews on this blog.
CU: What is the key element that makes a program right for your network?
BE: Well, clearly we live and breathe the automotive genre, so any non-event program we commission generally has to have a minimum of two tires and a combustible engine. Beyond that, in the original program category we are primarily interested in automotive lifestyle shows that have a combination of the following five elements – adrenaline; competition; cars; bikes; and girls. We’ve found over the last couple of years that our biggest opportunity to attract young male viewers lies in this arena and so we are aggressively pursuing and developing such properties.
CU: What programs and/or genres are you looking for in the next year?
BE: Simply stated, we’re in the hunt for something we don’t already have. We are actively developing personality-based programs with strong characters in various automotive-related settings. While the genre is diverse enough to accommodate a variety of different themes, the fact is that you are never going to see a show about base jumpers or talking animals on this network – and believe me, we’ve been pitched just about everything under the sun.
CU: How important are other platforms like broadband and mobile applications in the initial pitch?
BE: The ability to distribute content over multiple platforms has become increasingly important, that goes without saying. Perhaps now more than ever, content is truly king, and many of our partners and vendors are looking for exclusive content that can be spun off from long-form programs. Having said this, the actual initial pitch is not itself critical to this discussion. Once we’ve bought into the concept, that’s when we delve more deeply into the various ways in which we might disseminate the content; it’s much more tied up in the terms of the actual deal for the program.
CU: What’s the best way for a producer to pitch you?
BE: Come in prepared. Make it short and sweet. Include a brief video demo that’s illustrative of what the show is actually intended to look and feel like. Please do not come in with the intention of pitching any more than two programs at one time.
CU: What do you look for in a first-time producer besides a great idea?
BE: We try and get a gut sense as to his/her innate ability to execute the concept. Passion and commitment will go a long way to this end, but we also require proven ability to manage a budget. We’ve been pitched by prospective producers that have worked in various capacities on other shows while never actually running one, and unfortunately this has sometimes proven to be a significant liability.
CU: What mistakes do producers make when pitching you?
BE: It never ceases to amaze me when people come in with little or no knowledge of the network, our programs, or our audience, yet they insist that what they are bringing to us will absolutely be “your new Number 1, top-rated show”. Not everyone is equally adept at pitching his/her ideas, and so it’s our job to recognize the potential of any given prospect. I’m willing to cut someone some slack in this regard, but there’s really no excuse for not having done a little homework to familiarize oneself with the network.
CU: What can global programmers learn from the US cable network market and from your network in particular?
BE: The concept of broadcasting per se is largely a thing of the past. More and more, this industry is about narrowcasting; it’s about identifying a niche and owning that space as completely as possible. Even inside a niche, however, there is a risk of trying to be all things to all people, and that’s neither possible nor is it a particularly solid philosophy. So while we all look for that breakout hit with potential to crossover to the mainstream, we need to remain mindful not to disenfranchise our core audience in that pursuit.
CU: What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
BE: Think before speaking.
CU: Ever given?
BE: Learn from your mistakes.
CU: Who in this industry do you most admire and why?
BE: I see the tremendous body of work that HBO has produced under Sheila Nevins and I’m amazed by the quality, quantity and sheer breadth and variety of the material; it’s virtually unparalleled.
CU: What’s the smartest programming decision you have ever made?
BE: Teaming up two original series, PINKS and Unique Whips on Wednesday nights in an effort to attract Men 18-34 was a gamble that’s paid off nicely.
BE: Believing there was any hope for a show called I Wanna Date a Race Car Driver on this completely male-dominated network.
CU: In all of television, which classic program should be revived?
BE: Playhouse 90
CU: Should NEVER be revived?
BE: The Prisoner with Patrick McGoohan – it’s virtually perfect as is.