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New E! president is looking beyond the Kardashians, aiming to replace a 'current hit with future hit'

NBCUniversal's cable programming division underwent a major shake-up this month in an attempt to remain competitive in an increasingly challenging TV landscape.

Bonnie Hammer, chairman of the Cable Entertainment Group, restructured the group — made up of E!, Bravo, USA and other networks — by consolidating scripted programming efforts and realigning executive responsibilities.

The series of moves continued this week when Adam Stotsky was promoted Thursday to president of E! network. Stotsky had previously served as general manager of E! network, a role he stepped into in 2014.

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Under his new role, his responsibilities were expanded to include all unscripted programming and development for E! network. He will continue to oversee all day-to-day operations of the network, including news, digital and marketing, communications, as well as research and acquisitions. Stotsky also continues his role as president of sister network Esquire.

The Times spoke to Stotsky about his new role, the impact of changing viewer habits on E! network and what TV issues occupy his thoughts. Here is an excerpt of that conversation.

What was your mandate from Bonnie and Frances Berwick, who heads NBCU's Lifestyle Networks group, in taking on these added responsibilities?

I think the management challenge that we all have is that time is a finite commodity. You can only do so many things well. I think identifying where your respective core strengths are totally key. I think we see huge growth potential for E! network, first and foremost, because of the subject matter. Our aim is ambitious. We want to be the category killer for all things pop culture. I think as we look out into the future, it's the challenge of every programmer: finding the next big idea, that's the $100-billion challenge, and doing it in a way that feels fresh and unexpected. I think we've got a very clear view on who the audience is, what their expectations for E! are all about

"Keeping Up With the Kardashians" is obviously the key driver on prime time for E!, but it's in its 11th season. How do you keep a real player like that going while also focusing on developing other shows that can be crown jewels?

I think it's incumbent on any TV executive to balance the near term with the long term. You want to make sure that everything that is current is as strong as it can be. And that it's as sustainable for as long as possible. But the law of averages would suggest that at some point you will need to replace your current hit with future hits.

Historically, E! had programmed lots of different day parts, and I think from our collective use, we spread ourselves a little bit too thin. And over the course of the past 18 months, we've focused our collective energy on where we can really grow the business and grow our relationship with our audience around the globe. Part of that is focusing in on prime time with franchise-able, repeatable series.

We're doing it with [former "Biggest Loser" trainer] Gillian Michaels, for example, "WWE Divas," we're doing it in formats like "Botched." We're also doing it in scripted. Scripted offers a great opportunity for us to tell those pop culture stories where our unscripted cameras could never go. Our unscripted cameras could never go into Buckingham Palace, for example.

E! network, in particular, along with a few other NBCUniversal cable networks, are key profit generators for the company — but the margins have been compressed. How much pressure are you under to increase revenue and profitability?

It's a very healthy business. It's a good business based on a couple of factors: diversified offerings, unscripted and scripted, news franchise and live events, and big digital business. But E! is also global. That's a great contributor to the health of our business. We think there is upside to be had. We think the reinvestment focus into prime time can help continue to fuel that growth. Steve Burke, as our CEO, is very clear on what our goals are — we're evaluated by Wall Street through very singular metrics, which is operating cash flow. Profit matters. Running our business as efficiently as possible and finding ways to draw efficiencies between brands is of key importance. My role cuts across two brands. Integrating those two brands under a single leadership team makes things much more efficient. That matters as distribution pressure continue, as advertising pressures continue, and consumer behavior continues to change and force a shift in metrics. Running a business smartly is as important as finding the next big idea.

We're also in an era where there's a lot of talk of skinny bundles. Talk about the pressure to make smaller channels like Esquire stand out as cable operators scale back offerings.

We have great relationships with our cable operating partners. It's incumbent upon not only Esquire, but E! and every programming service to deliver value to our distribution partners. But we have to show growth. Growth in this market is hard to come by and we're quite proud of what we accomplished in 2015 — both brands were up when the majority of the market was down. That doesn't happen by accident. We didn't do big acquisitions like buy "The Simpsons" library.

We hear a lot about Peak TV and cord-cutting, but what is the TV issue you think about most?

I think digital native talent is super interesting and how you build sustainable relationships with an audience with something that is quite disposable. It's very interesting. [YouTube's] PewDiePie is sort of going through that right now. I see it with my boys. I have 8- and 9-year-old boys. For two months, it's nothing but Minecraft and today it's nothing but something else. Because there is such an explosion of content, I think building deep and meaningful relationships that can sustain 11 seasons [like "Keeping Up With the Kardashians"] is harder than ever. I talk about that a lot.

I'm also really interested in the whole sort of binge versus sustained rollouts. I love "House of Cards" and it was all I could talk about for 72 hours while I was bingeing it. But it rarely comes up again. No disrespect to the show, which I think is terrific. But bingeing creates a challenge in the creation of a lasting relationship, which is a fundamental of television. We debate it. Should we put out all 13 episodes at once? We talk about it all the time. Ultimately for us, E!'s linear platform is a persistent platform. We need to make sure we have enough content to make people come back. I look at my own behavior with respect to [over the top] platforms [like Netflix], I don't go there all the time. It's selective and strategic. We want E! and Esquire to be persistent and part of people's lives.

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times
A version of this article appeared in print on February 25, 2016, in the Business section of the Los Angeles Times with the headline "Beyond the Kardashians - New E! president aims for growth in new fare - ON THE RECORD" — Today's paperToday's paper | Subscribe
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