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Letter from New York
Mathew Tombers is the President of Intermat, Inc., a consulting practice that specializes in the intersection of media, technology and marketing. For two years, he produced the Emmys on the Web and supervised web related activities for the Academy, including for the 50th Anniversary year of the Emmy Awards. In addition to its consulting engagements, Intermat recently sold METEOR’S TALE, an unpublished novel by Michael O’Rourke, to Animal Planet for development as a television movie. Visit his web site at

Musings, inspired by a building…

This week I, like anyone who works in non-fiction television does at one time or another, made the journey to Silver Spring to see the folks at Discovery. I am such a frequent visitor that I am on first name basis with the main receptionist and am granted the privilege of a yellow pass, which means I don’t have to be accompanied around the building. I have even begun to figure out the labyrinthine building.

In 1992, I started working for Discovery and left in 1996. When I arrived, there were 245 employees in the company.

Today, Discovery is one of the Washington, D.C. area’s top employers. It now occupies not a floor and a half of a building but a newly built, beautiful building of its own in Silver Spring which dwarfs anything in the neighborhood.

When Discovery arrived, the area was barren of restaurants and shops. It now thrives. Jokingly, people say that that part of Silver Spring should be called Hendricksville, after the founder of Discovery, John Hendricks.

The transformation of Discovery from a company in 1992 with 245 employees to the powerhouse it is today is part of one of the great business stories of the 20th century – the emergence of cable networks as dynamic entertainment forces. It is a story that has taken place over twenty years and one that we now take for granted.

Of course networks like Discovery are important cultural forces…

In 1985, twenty years ago, when I was the head of Ad Sales on the west coast for A&E, I told people at ad agencies the day would come when cable networks would control more eyeballs than broadcast networks and I was scoffed at. But it happened in 2004 and has continued to accelerate.

This transformation of the media landscape is largely due to the vision of individuals like John Hendricks, who mortgaged his life to the hilt and maxed his credit cards to launch Discovery. Hendricks, Ted Turner, the often vilified John Malone, and others took a small backwater industry and transformed it over a couple of decades into a major industry which influences every part of our lives.

Can we, most of us, imagine life without CNN? It is difficult for me.

Cable companies are now competing with telephone companies for my phone business and are providing me with high speed internet access. Internet? Who knew that in 1985?

Today, in the background, Internet2 [code named, I think, Abilene] is hovering, an even more robust infrastructure which is just beginning to make itself available, and promises to transform the media landscape even more.

When I started working for A&E, many ad executives looked at me quizzically and asked me: what magazine is this? Or: what’s cable?

None of those questions are asked anymore.

Cable is an industry and cable networks are a force, whether delivered by a wire or from the sky by satellite. Broadcast networks are continuing to creatively drift, with ratings in a slow downward spiral despite occasional successes like DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES.

Cable nets are competing creatively and in ratings with the broadcast networks. The unthinkable of twenty years ago is now almost accepted as fact. Broadcast networks still have a glitter about them but the glitter doesn’t twinkle as brightly as it did.

All of these were thoughts I had as I walked from the Washington Metro up to the Discovery Building. The transformation of an industry seemed embodied in that physical structure.

However, cable is now considered a “mature” industry and must fend off new technology threats. Internet surfing is replacing television viewing and with Internet2 hanging off there in the background, more changes are in the offing.

The fastest growing segment in advertising expenditures is for internet delivered advertising, which is a sure harbinger that change is upon us. Verizon is introducing a new cell phone handset that apparently delivers pretty damn good pictures.

Electronic innovations will continue to accelerate and acerbate our sense of “future shock”.

We live in yesterday’s future and it is far different from what we expected in 1985.

I find it exciting even if a bit threatening.