Cablevision’s Vilification of Scripps Networks Exec Ken Lowe, One Of The Smartest, Classiest Guys In The Cable Industry

Scripps CEO Ken Lowe, Cablevision's villain

There are so many things we should be doing now, rather than blogging. We have to update our resume for a job we’re applying for. We have press releases to write for Saint Barnabas. We have freelance work from three different people, two of the assignments related to health, stacked up. We have to take our Christmas tree down. And we should be cruising for a man.

But we have to write about Ken Lowe. Lowe, CEO of Scripps Networks Interactive, has been named in the full-page ads that Cablevision has been running in papers like The New York Times and the Manhattan tabloids. The ads — and Scripps is running ads too — are part of the week-long war over fees between the cable company and Scripps, which led to Food Network and HGTV being pulled from 3.1 million homes in the Tri-State area.

Scripps wants a rate increase for its channels, and Cablevision says the ask is unreasonable. Programmers and distributors fight all the time, but it’s fairly rare to see a CEO singled out the way Cablevision has singled out Lowe, kind of making the business battle personal.

Cablevision’s ads claim that “Lowe is demanding a $20 million rate increase for Food Network and HGTV.” It makes it sound like Lowe is right at the negotiating table, pounding his fist. That’s not how it works.

We know all is fair in love and war, and Scripps had celebrity chef Bobby Flay doing anti-Cablevision radio spots for it, but the attack on Lowe seem like a low blow, no pun intended, by the cable company. The ads cast Lowe as the nasty, money-grubbing bogeyman in all of this.

We’ve known Lowe for almost two decades, from reporting on the cable industry. He was always one of the smartest, nicest, classiest, frankest, friendliest programmers we have ever met. He’s well-respected in the media business. His background was radio, and his college roommate at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill was Rick Dees, the well-known disc jockey.

A veteran broadcaster working at Scripps, Lowe founded and launched HGTV in 1994, and managed Food Network, which Scripps holds a majority stake in. He built an empire of lifestyle cable networks, but admitted to my former editor, Marianne Paskowski, that he once feared being fired by Scripps.

We remember going with Paskowski to interview Lowe at a cable trade show. It was fun, he was bright, and it didn’t hurt that Lowe, now 59, was easy on the eyes. We know that’s unprofessional to say, but what the hell.

He is a Southerner — we hear he was raised on a tobacco farm — but Southern charm doesn’t usually work with us. Folks from New Jersey are “loud and proud,” and don’t beat around the bush. There is no gentility or many manners in the New York metro region.

We often say that we’d rather have someone tell us the truth than be nice to our face, and then talk about us behind our backs. And since we’ve been stabbed in the back by a Southerner who had lots of folksy stories and an accent, we know what we’re talking about.

We don’t know how Lowe treated his employees — we did hear he liked to send e-mails at 2 in the morning. We hear Scripps doesn’t pay producers much. But with us, Lowe was always a pleasure to interview and deal with.

Scripps’ battle with Cablevision relates to the seeds of Food Network, we believe. As we remember, Food Network was free to cable operators for a long period, it may have been 10 years, surviving just by selling advertising. Most cable networks have two revenue streams — license fees from cable companies and advertising.

Now, Scripps is trying to get Food Network caught up, in terms of price, with other cable networks. But times are tough, and distributors like Cablevision don’t want to pay double-digit price hikes.

It’s as if you started a job at a low salary five years ago, and went to your boss today and asked for a big salary increase so you could be at a par with your colleagues. It’s a tough economy, budgets are tight, and your boss doesn’t care if your salary is less than everyone else.

Wall Street analyst Rich Greenfield has written that Scripps underestimated Cablevision’s resolve and unpredictability, and we think that’s true, too.

Anyway, contract negotiations are usually handled by a cable channel’s affiliate sale team, and in the case of Scripps it is Lynne Costantini, who used to work in programming at Time Warner Cable.

She was expected to be named head of programming at Time Warner, but instead a woman named Melinda Witmer got the job. Witmer was in the news recently because she negotiated the new Time Warner-Fox deal — averting a massive blackout of Fox TV stations — with Fox Cable’s affiliate chief Mike Hopkins.

For all the vitriole of the retransmission-consent negotiations between Time Warner and Fox, we don’t think any executives’ names turned up in any ads, the way that Lowe’s name has in Cablevision’s.

We have interviewed Costantini, Witmer and even broke bread and shared a few cocktails with Hopkins in Las Vegas. They’re all smart, civil folks, like Lowe.

We’re hoping that Cablevision will turn down the volume in its dispute with Scripps, and give Lowe a break. Even wars have rules. We wish Cablevision would abide by them.

In the meantime, every couple of days we have to call our sister Karen or our parents, who are among Cablevision’s 900,000 households in Jersey, to see what the cable company is running on the crawl on Food Network and HGTV’s former channel slots.

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5 Responses to “Cablevision’s Vilification of Scripps Networks Exec Ken Lowe, One Of The Smartest, Classiest Guys In The Cable Industry”

  1. isabella Says:

    cablevision subscriber here, and I must confess that i am not missing either of these channels. the programming on FN has detoriated lately to contest shows which dont interest me. and HG is heading the same way.
    Would like a credit from cablevision but I dont think that will happen.

  2. iammdesign Says:

    Poor Ken Lowe, like many others, underestimated the Cablevision empire and the fact that the consumer is strapped for cash these days….shame on all of them!

  3. Scripps Vs Cablevision Says:

    It’s real sad, the way Cablevision is running their “loop” ads on channel 30 and 66, and now they are showing up on the Travel Network, (of which 65% is owned by Scripps.)

    Another thing: Cablevision claimed they had NO idea that the 2 channels would be pulled at midnight Dec. 31. It’s not rocket science, because had they NOT known, how could they have suddenly whipped up those “ads” that started displaying on the now-missing channels, immediately after midnight?

    After some investigative digging, I found out that Scripps and Cablevision have been trying to reach an agreement since May. Cablevision is playing hardball (and lowball). They underestimated Mr. Lowe and the Scripps team, and really didn’t think those channels would go off.

    7 months is a long time to be negotiating, and I believe Scripps did the right thing, instead of being bullied by Jim Dolan.

    A lot of people left Cablevision after the YES channel problemo. While YES eventually did come back to Cablevision ( it took over a year), people left to find other places to get it….and that is now happening again with the HGTV and FOOD NETWORK problem. This time, though, it’s bigger. I personally know of 14 households who have switched to Direct TV and FiOS over this recent debacle.

    I think Mr. Dolan really needs to re-examine his strategies. He needs to get off his high horse and act more dignified, like his father, Charles. I believe if Charles was still at the helm, this would NOT be happening.

    Jim is known for his temper and stubborn nature, and there have been problems between him and his father and brother over how he “does” things.

    If all the other cable companies had no problem negotiating deals with Scripps (and for a bit more money, btw), then why is Dolan trying to be so difficult?

    He really should get his mind of Tiger Woods, and get back to REAL business, that of CABLEVISION and his subscribers, who are leaving slowly but surely.

    Come on: Mr. Dolan has been paying 25 CENTS for BOTH channels since he acquired them years ago. It is time for an increase, and the deal Mr. Lowe and Scripps are offering is LOWER than what ANY of the other cable providers are paying.

    Wake up, Jimmy. Wake up. Your customers have options, you are NOT THE ONLY GAME IN TOWN. He should keep that in mind when he wants to branch out into other states. This is not good press for Cablevision.

    Cablevision should have warned their customers that this could happen and stop making Scripps look like the bad guy.

    Why should Scripps keep the Channels on? I’m sure they would have, had they not been trying to negotiate for over half a year.

    Scripps did the right thing by airing the shows on the CW, for their loyal fans.
    They don’t owe Cablevision anything.

    I’ve waited long enough and will switch to FiOS this coming week. It’s not fair to the consumers, I waited out the year to get that YES channel back…but I’m not going to wait another year ….for Food Network and HGTV.

    Besides, Travel Channel could be the next channel to disappear.

    Will we be reimbursed?

    I say…LET’S GO A-LA-CARTE . Give the people what they want. Let them pay for what they want.

  4. SN Says:

    Food Network celebrities should get involved to get their channel back on cablevision because since we lost the channel we are not going to buy from the FN online store or their cookbooks. Celebrities are going to suffer and lose their fans because these 2 companies can’t compromise and come to a resolution.

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    […]Cablevision’s Vilification of Scripps Networks Exec Ken Lowe, One Of The Smartest, Classiest Guys In The Cable Industry « Homeshoppingista's Blog By Linda Moss[…]…

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