5 Questions for Beth Higbee, SVP, Scripps Networks Interactive

  • by June 27, 2006

Beth Higbee is responsible for the operations and content of Scripps' popular lifestyle brands Food Network, Fine Living, and the Great American Country Network, the company's 24-hour country music video network. Higbee oversees wireless, broadband, and interactive programs for the properties, and successfully introduced the first paid cell phone application and the first convergent TV show to the company. Under her guidance, has become the top online food destination, setting record-breaking traffic with nearly 10 million unique visitors last November. 

What are the major highlights/accomplishments in your business so far this year?

> Our business in the past year has become remarkably successful at popularizing new technologies. This has been especially evident in video and mobile content. Scripps Networks has been one of the big promoters of many of these experiments. We shepherded an original online broadband series, premiered several TV shows online, debuted several video-heavy content sites, and launched live events where users chose the program's outcome by Web and cell phone. We dabbled in interactive TV, customized cell phone content, user-generated content, and new designs for video and text integration. I've been watching Web/TV convergence evolve for several years, so it's fun to see it finally burst onto the scene.

You've been working in new media for a while. What changes have you seen, and what still needs to change?

> What's changed most to me isn't the technology but the adoption of it by consumers and media. As a result, we're seeing rapid innovations by businesses to market to this suddenly awakened audience. In my opinion, the fundamentals haven't changed dramatically: Advertising, pay-per-downloads, subscriptions, and licensing fees have matured into commonly accepted forms of interactive revenue. User-generated content, social networking, and instant communication, which sparked the layman's "World Wide Web" more than a decade ago, only recently became industry darlings. Interactive TV has reappeared with a facelift, and push technology has reinvented itself as desktop applications.

What we still need is a true model of convergence. We're groping our way across diverse devices, business models, consumer expectations, and technology to craft the Ultimate Smart Media Center.

What role do you see Web-based content, along with other new media platforms, playing in the future of broadcast and cable TV networks?

> Clearly, consumers love any technology that lets them customize and control. We see it in ad-skipping digital video recorders, cell phones with personalized rings, citizen journalism on any conceivable topic, and furtive workday breaks with YouTube. However, consumers also love their TVs. Now that they've tasted the power of on-demand content through new media platforms, they're going to want to apply that control to all of their entertainment choices. Media companies need to understand how this consumer control fundamentally shifts our business and we need to embrace this shift quickly or I can't see us being successful in the future.

What are the most vexing issues in your business right now?

> Eventually, our industry will need to come to an agreement on business models and standardized technologies. Right now, it seems as if each innovation we produce comes with its own revenue model and proprietary platform. We present a splintered universe of choice to an increasingly bewildered base of consumers, and soon enough we'll be left battling for slivers of audiences. We also need to combat hype over substance. Not every media company needs to toss its content immediately on to every possible form of interactivity. I believe we need to put more thought into developing the right content for the right audiences on the right devices, and the most sensible way to profit from it.

If you were not heading this business, what would you most like to do?

> It might be fun to try my hand at commerce. Whereas interactive media often is focused on devising clever content vehicles that ultimately support sales, interactive commerce is straight selling. There's something refreshing about being singularly focused and bold. 


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