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A Look Back At TWICE's 20-Year History

8/28/2006 02:00:00 AM Eastern

This year TWICE celebrates its 20th anniversary, a lifespan that no doubt comes as a surprise to two groups in our industry: one was sure TWICE wouldn't be around to celebrate its first anniversary, and the other is made up of those current TWICE readers who feel TWICE has been around forever.

This, of course, is also my 20th year of involvement with TWICE, fourteen as chief editor, and the last six, while officially retired, as editor at large with a regular column that allows me to continue contributing.

In June 1986, TWICE was formally born at a launch party thrown by founder Richard Ekstract, in Chicago, during the Summer Consumer Electronics Show. He had just been freed from the non-compete clause in the contract he signed when his stable of electronics and video software magazines was sold to Canada's Thomson Publishing.

At the start of the year, he approached me with the proposition that I end my 17-year stint with the newsletter Television Digest, and join him in this new venture. We were not strangers. From 1969, when he acquired the rights to publish the Consumer Electronics Show Daily from Television Digest, I freelanced for many of his publications, including the consumer magazine, Video Review and accepted his offer that spring. News of the pending launch of TWICE was greeted with great skepticism by the trade. The field was already overloaded with magazines, including such firmly established publications as Autosound & Communications, A/VI, Consumer Electronics, Dealerscope, HFD, Mart and Sight & Sound. There were also four home satellite publications, five video software magazines and a handful of computer and video game specialty books. Many of our competitors spread a rumor that the TWICE plan was to open in the fall and close right after the Winter CES, and manufacturers let it be known that trade ad budgets were locked up for the year.

The argument that we were to be a hard-news weekly, differentiating ourselves from our major competitors; all feature-oriented monthlies, didn't cut much ice at the time. To overcome these objections, my editorial approach was simple: To make dealers feel they were part of the industry by giving them an inside view through interviews with leading players, reports on sales meetings, association and government activities that impacted their business, statistics with interpretations and thought provoking editorials.

While our first issue of TWICE was a “preview edition” in August for distribution at the Video Software Dealers Association convention, it was followed in September by our official launch. To my surprise, we made a strong impression, because of content and the striking color cover and interior design created by the noted Milton Glazer organization. Original start-up plans called for us to be called “THIS WEEK In Consumer Electronics.” Glazer wisely opted for the acronym “TWICE.”

Marcia Grand, the last original staff member still on the job, filled the role of publisher and chief salesperson. She left Consumer Electronics to rejoin Ekstract for the TWICE start-up, and I can't try to describe what she went through to get TWICE off the ground with advertisers. But as the weeks went by and advertisers saw how TWICE was catching on with dealers, her job got somewhat easier. In fact, she did it so well that TWICE closed the calendar year in the black.

Ekstract, Grand and I worked together through the first half of 1991, when TWICE was sold to Cahners Publishing (now Reed Business Information), and Ekstract left to pursue other interests.

Publishing the leading daily distributed at the Consumer Electronics Show made us attractive to Cahners. When TWICE began, there were already four being published, including Consumer Electronics Show Daily (CESD), part of Canada's Thomson Publishing group.

The other three were ads-for-edit, generally distributed to hotel rooms and at the show itself. In 1989, Thomson closed up shop in the United States, creating a CES Daily opening.

TWICE TODAY debuted at the 1990 Summer CES, and was later renamed TWICE CES Daily. Subsequently, EIA/Consumer Electronics Group (now the Consumer Electronics Association, which runs the show) designated TWICE CES Daily as the show's official publication starting in 1994, and the only one that can be distributed at CES show venues and shuttle busses.

Our arrival at Cahners produced two-way culture shock. We were a pretty loose group with informal rules and regulations, made up and changed as we went along. Cahners' other trade publications were conservative and traditional, and our editorial mix of hard industry news, combined with new product and financial reports, was quite different from what they were accustomed to. After conducting readership studies and focus groups, our standing in the industry as one of the top electronics trade journals was reaffirmed and in time, TWICE's profitability and relatively low operating expenses helped us to adjust.

Frequency went from weekly to biweekly, which greatly improved our ability to do more in-depth reports and actually increased the amount of space devoted to news. And a redesign gave TWICE a more professional-looking appearance. As TWICE grew in size and influence, a new type of editorial management was needed. We were lucky to lure Steve Smith away from HFN in 1993.

Six years ago, Cahners' parent, now known as Reed Business Information, underwent an extensive management restructuring. I was already past retirement age, and when I was offered a retirement incentive, I accepted. Steve, meanwhile, did some restructuring of his own, bringing in some sharp new staff members, creating a more disciplined and efficient news operation, and a good relationship with corporate. He has prepared TWICE for the demands of the next 20 years.

As for me, well, I really don't expect to be around to help celebrate the 40th anniversary, but I hope to continue my involvement as editor at large.







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