From working in research to local television, and digital distribution to multiplatform programming, Arthur Hasson knows how the proverbial content sausage is made. This career path, which spans from Subway Restaurants to Xena Warrior Princess, has given him unique insight into the television landscape and made him uniquely qualified to be Sinclair Broadcast Group's chief operating officer of programming. Hasson recently discussed his diverse career and shared his own feelings on the state of television today.
E.B. Moss: How did you start out in the media business and then land in the programming arena?
Arthur Hasson: I started my career working as a researcher for Bill Harvey, who at the time — in the mid-1980s — coauthored some very forward-looking projects with Norm Hecht. From doing geo-segmented audience analysis by ZIP Code to being the first to do in-home testing of content through leased cable channels, Bill, Norm, and our team were way ahead of the curve. We were even the first to make automated phone calls, or junk calls. Sorry!
After my research stint, I spent many years working in distribution for Orion Pictures, followed by Universal Television. Subsequently, I distributed and produced TV shows as an independent, and worked on some larger Facebook promotions.
Somehow, I ended up as the general manager at the Sinclair stations in Harrisburg, PA, and while they are different, it actually made complete sense for me. I have always been involved in local media and this was a great opportunity to really learn it from the inside. I loved that job; broadcasters make a difference in local communities every day, something it's easy to forget if your orientation is LA or NY.
Moss: What have been your biggest programming wins and challenges over the years?
Hasson: I spent most of my career selling shows, so winning was defined as selling a first-run show; Xena Warrior Princess and Jerry Springer come to mind. Now, it's looking forward and finding new ways to maintain and increase profitability in an ever-fractionalized media world.
These days we're particularly proud of offering our local news, 100-plus other channels and, coming soon, our syndicated shows via OTT on our recently launched, free, ad-supported streaming platform, STIRR.
Moss: Are there programming trends you see evolving over time in each daypart?
Hasson: As it relates to syndicated shows, fall 2019 is pretty exciting; five or six new shows just started, which is more than we've developed in the past few years combined. While most of these shows replace other shows of similar genres, such as the two new game shows we're trying — 25 Words or LessandAmerica Says — they're also replacing certain reruns. Broadcasters still need to develop alternatives to existing syndicated reruns and these first-run programming efforts are something we will support on a go-forward basis.
Moss: What are your criteria for making programming decisions and how do you gauge success?
Hasson: We tend to be a big customer for most shows because we have a lot of stations, often with highly disparate needs. We have a small team that looks closely at all new shows and then it gets layered into our local needs market-by-market. In this business, no crystal ball is effective, so a lot of this work is trial by error. Gauging success is the easy part: We get report cards every day in the form of ratings.
Moss: What are Sinclair's programming priorities and strategies for the future?
Hasson: Our programming can be divided into several buckets: news, network, syndicated fare, and sports. Our most important original programming in terms of advertising revenue is local news: It is the basis for our local brand. So, on affiliates, it's simply a matter of finding programming that appeals to news and network audiences.
There are a handful of shows that move the needle for these stations, and we look to renew those shows. We have different needs on our CW, MyNet, and even some of our Fox stations that aren't airing local news. Traditionally, those stations relied heavily on rerun sitcoms, but we find that demographic also enjoys game shows, which is a primary reason we supported game shows so heavily for the fall.
Moving forward, we're particularly focused on sports, having recently finalized a deal to acquire 21 Regional Sports Networks from Disney, which, overnight, have turned us into a leader in the vertical. While the RSNs have been largely focused on airing live games, we see this as a unique opportunity to flex our know-how in developing original content, and we are incredibly excited to bring improved non-game content to the RSNs.
We also strive to make sure we're reaching audiences in innovative ways that support the way they're increasingly consuming content. Our OTT endeavor, STIRR, is a great example, with its robust local news channel and scores of sports and entertainment options. Soon we'll begin serving all of our syndicated shows on OTT and on-demand, as well, further differentiating STIRR from its competitors.
We are always focused on our customers, especially our viewers, and these new additions to our portfolio are an extension of that effort.
Moss: How does the programming process work at Sinclair?
Hasson: Market-by-market, station-by-station, time period-by-time period. We work closely with our in-market general managers on picking shows and crafting deals. These boots on the ground give us valuable insight in terms of audience appeal and the competitive situation.
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