In many industries, the middleman is the key to selling your product. Novelists, for example, have agents who act as their middlemen, shopping their novels to the various publishers in the book industry, and selling to the highest bidders. But in the video business, independent producers have had to sell their shows to networks without benefit of middlemen. They’ve had to sell their product alone–an intimidating situation for the independent.

Enter Gary Lico, middleman extraordinaire. Recognizing the need for middlemen in the video business, Lico has set up shop as an independent producer’s representative. His company, Cable Ready Corporation of Stamford, Connecticut, serves as the sales conduit between program suppliers and cable networks.

“We pride ourselves on being the first and probably only independent sales force selling programming to cable networks,” says Lico.

As head of this sales force, Lico knows what programming the cable operators are looking for and how independent producers can provide that programming.

Filling a Niche

An 18-year veteran of the broadcasting industry, Lico knows the market he’s selling better than most. Prior to launching Cable Ready Corp. in 1992, he spent seven years at Columbia Pictures Television, most recently serving as Vice President, Eastern Region. At Columbia, he headed up programming sales to the growing cable industry. In fact, he generated over $42 million in sales to the cable industry during his time there.

Lico’s tenure in the broadcast industry led him to discover an unfulfilled niche for a new company. He saw firsthand what a hard time program suppliers–independent producers, station groups and syndicators–had selling their programs to cable networks. At the same time, he also foresaw the burgeoning cable industry and its growing need for quality shows.

“These cable networks have money and clout behind them and they need programming,” says Lico. “It just seemed natural for a company to declare a specialty in selling these shows to this expanding cable universe.”

Content is Everything

At Cable Ready Corp., Lico has amassed a library of 3500 programs. These programs run the gamut, covering almost every conceivable category, including: nature, children, comedy, documentary, how-to, sports, magazine/talk and family programming.

These shows are listed in a catalog prospective buyers can peruse. When Lico takes on a new client, he adds that client’s work to his library and lists it in the catalog.

The actual selling of programming is conducted by Lico and his two employees. While they do go out on traditional sales calls to the various cable networks, these networks also approach them to fill specific programming needs.

When a network decides to buy a show from a client, Cable Ready Corp. handles the negotiation, the contracts and billing for the client. The network sends payment for the programming directly to Cable Ready Corp.; Lico deducts a commission for his company’s services and then forwards a check for the balance to his client.

As his company has grown, so has the list of prestigious clients and buyers. Cable Ready Corp.’s client roster includes Dick Clark Productions, Tribune Entertainment, Belo Productions, Genesis Entertainment and Hearst Broadcasting. Cable Ready Corp. has sold programming to such networks as USA, Nickelodeon, VH1, The Travel Channel, Black Entertainment Television and the TV Food Network.

What’s Selling Now

Lico is always on the lookout for fresh programming to add to his eclectic library. While not actively searching for new material, he’s always willing to watch demo tapes from aspiring producers.

Lico has several tips for independent producers hoping to sell their programming.

“In general,” Lico says, “one-hour shows are easier to sell to cable networks than half-hour shows.”

As common sense would seem to dictate, breaking in is also easier when you produce the kind of programming the cable networks are looking for. Right now, the race is on for instructional video.

“The cable networks are hungry for how-to programs,” says Lico. “Cooking, crafts, you name it–they want how-tos.” According to Lico, independent producers who target their shows to the individual network they hope to sell to also increases sales potential. It also can help prevent producers from spending good money after bad on projects that don’t stand a chance of selling.

“In today’s economy, there are not many people who can afford to pursue their dream projects,” says Lico. “They should keep their target audience in mind during the development of their programs.”

Such target marketing is the trend of the future; those independent producers who understand that and develop projects accordingly will find themselves well-prepared to take advantage of the coming 500-channel universe.

125 New Networks

Let’s fast forward a little, envisioning the 500-channel bonanza a few years down the information superhighway. There’ll be some 125 new networks operating–networks that promise a record increase in program diversity.

Like most industry insiders, Lico expects a rapid increase not only in the number of new programs, but in the subject matter of those programs as well.

“To get an idea of what TV will be like in five years, just run through the tremendous diversity of radio programs aired in Los Angeles today,” says Lico. “There are programs targeted to every conceivable age, ethnic and interest group.”

Lico predicts that TV everywhere will be much like radio in L.A. today. Viewers will enjoy programming choices they can only dream about now.

“Viewers will choose between the new networks they way they choose between magazines at newsstands today,” says Lico.

Again, to capitalize on this diversity, independent producers will need to target their programming.

“In order to best position themselves, programmers must target their programs specifically to a cable network,” says Lico.

Over There

The domestic market is not the only market set to expand. The international markets are also opening up to American programming–and Lico and his Cable Ready Corp. are plunging in. Lico is expanding his territory to include the international networks, making the necessary contacts to ensure Cable Ready Corp.’s piece of the global TV pie.

“Many networks over there have voracious appetites for American programs,” Lico says. “With the recent opening of European markets, these networks provide great opportunities for programmers. After all, entertainment is America’s number two export.”

Given the rosy promise of future growth, Lico predicts a time soon when even his 3500-program library will prove too small. That’s where you, the independent producer, come in.

Practice, Practice, Practice

The ultimate trick to selling programming is to produce good programming. What makes good programming?

Lico answers this question with the classic joke about the little boy holding a violin case.

“The boy’s walking around Times Square,” says Lico. “He asks a policeman how to get to Carnegie Hall. The policeman replies, ‘practice, practice, practice’.”

Mastering the artful craft of videomaking “takes lots of persistence and time,” says Lico.

Those independent producers who do master their craft, however, can turn to middlemen like Lico to help them sell their work. With knowledgeable pros like Lico representing them, independent producers may be able to spend their time and energy on what they do best–making programming.

Brett Skogen is Videomaker‘s associate editor. Send e-mail to 71161, 1722@cserve.com.

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