From Jim To Judy

November 11, 2006
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To: Judy Harris, President of Channel One

From: Jim Metrock, President of Obligation

 

You can’t save Channel One.

Let it die. It wants to die.

Channel One is Channel Done. It’s not just wordplay – it’s true.

When you became president of Channel One you inherited the many sins of those who came before you. You had an opportunity to change the culture of secrecy and hard-nosed lobbying that has identified your company. (Why in the world would an in-school TV show hire a thug like Casino Jack Abramoff?)

Instead of breaking with the past you chickened out. You, like David Tanzer, Kevin McAliley, Kevin Neary and Jim Ritts before you, chose to conduct business as usual.

The result: every day your company becomes smaller and more irrelevant. I’m not complaining. You are effectively doing what parents, teachers, students, and activists have been trying to do for years.

When you were hired, PRIMEDIA’s then-CEO Kelly Conlin said of you, "Her strength lies in her ability to create revenue opportunities in the consumer and educational marketplace through partnerships, alliances and brand extensions." Maybe Mr. Conlin was sacked in October 2005 in part because he hired the wrong person to head Channel One.

With all due respect, your ability to create "revenue opportunities" is somewhat suspect and even if it wasn’t, it is not what Channel One needed.

Channel One has never lacked for marketing and advertising executives. You’re just the latest in a long line of execs seeking to promote the Channel One brand. But alas, the Channel One brand is dead.

It was killed as much by those inside the company as out.

Channel One needed a journalist or an educator as CEO to make the show better. Instead they hired you. Go figure. Years ago, Channel One made the decision that "Selling" was more important than "Telling." Your company sealed their doom when they valued good marketing over good journalism.

Since you have joined the company, you have turned the show into a pathetic, hyper-commercialized mess. You play fast and loose with the rules. You know you are contractually limited to no more than two minutes of commercial content per show, but you ignore that restriction and you allow companies to sponsor various segments of the show. Where did you got the idea that you can have a Gatorade-sponsored story, with the Gatorade logo prominent throughout the segment, with pictures of Gatorade product shown, and think that it is not an advertisement for Gatorade?

This past Tuesday morning, your boss Dean Nelson CEO of PRIMEDIA hosted a quarterly conference call with investors. He talked about Channel One. He usually mentions your name, as in, "We expect good things from the new management team at Channel One headed by Judy Harris." He didn’t mention your name this time. (I think he’s angry at you.) Channel One ad revenue for each of the last five quarters has averaged 27% less than the same quarter the year before. All of these dismal quarters were on your watch.

Do you think you are THAT bad a CEO? I don’t. I don’t think anybody can be THAT bad. So if you are trying your best and the company continues to sink, then what could be the reason? Could it be that a business model that brings advertising into classrooms doesn’t work anymore? Bingo.

Few people, few educators like your company. Advertisers are wary of your company. You are now attempting to convince foundations that your company deserves a handout. You better be straightforward with these foundations. You recently convinced the Knight Foundation that you could help educate students about the First Amendment. Did the Knight Foundation, supporters of good journalism, know that you are the Queen of Advertorials? Did they know your reporters use their news positions to help plug singers and their new CDs and movie stars and their movies?

Ms. Harris, you probably have been so busy firing people and cutting expenses that you haven’t visited too many "Channel One schools." If you had, you would understand it doesn’t matter anymore what you do in your Manhattan office or in the rent-a-studio in the Van Ness Square Shopping Center.

All of us have had the icky feeling of being one of the last people at a party. You kick yourself for not having left before the band quit playing.

Ms. Harris, the party is over. The band isn’t going to crank up the amp and play another set. It’s time for everyone to go home.

Channel One has made a killing off of school kids. It lasted for much longer than anyone thought.

That’s why you should propose a solution to your frustrated boss. As you know, last Tuesday your boss said he is assessing the future of Channel One. Tell Mr. Nelson to stop assessing. Tell him Channel One should be shut down. You fired all the wrong people already, now fire the ones that ruined the company. Donate all the ancient TV equipment to schools. They will love you.

I just saved you a bunch of money in consulting fees. No need to thank me.