Every time I’m lucky enough to visit Los Angeles, I pay a pilgrimage to the pier at Santa Monica and to the end point of Route 66.
As a devoted Americana music fan, I grew up with Bobby Troup’s classic track in all of its many re-imaginings, from Chuck Berry to the Boss. But I also love the powerful symbolism of this pathway from east to west across a continent. The economic migration of thousands seeking new prosperity.
In our industry there is another tangible sense of movement between the east and west coasts. A shining beacon of this is the decision by Promax, the TV marketing industry body, to scrap alternating conference venues between New York and Los Angeles and, for the foreseeable future, make camp in LA. The reason is stark: the major streaming services - Netflix, Amazon, Apple - and the social platforms are all West Coast.
The sense of continental drift has been felt at the conference for some years of course, but Promax’s active courting of the streamers has been particularly noticeable this year, and major conference platforms were given to five marketers from Hulu, two senior execs from Amazon, a headline session on Disney+ and multiple agencies discussing techniques for launching shows on Netflix.
So, what is the mood amongst the traditional broadcast and cable networks? Have they thrown up their hands and accepted a period of managed decline? Far from it. From the 19+ million who tuned into the Game of Thrones finale, to the record-breaking numbers of cable viewers hungry for Season 10 of The Walking Dead or the millions who waited with bated breath for Colton to “jump the wall” in ABC’s The Bachelor, the sense of continued confidence in the broadcast model was palpable.
Indeed, as I argued in the conference’s opening session, there is much that streamers can learn from 60 years of lessons from TV marketing. For example, the creation of distinctive sub-brand personalities would help viewers navigate the paralyzing blizzard of choice that faces them on most streaming sites. The algorithms that steer the current categorizations render them fundamentally lacking in the character and strength of individual channel brands that, in a linear world, so powerfully help audiences to make decisions in their living rooms.
When I’m presented with the Netflix category of “Witty workplace comedies” (which somehow embraces The Thick of It, Archer and Fawlty Towers) I can't help but miss the clarity of a curator brand like Dave or IFC. I know exactly what sort of shows those channels provide. They will encourage me to try something new based on past experiences and they build a relationship that I trust. Disney+ will have strong curator sub-brands underneath a headline platform, from Marvel and Pixar to National Geographic, and our strong suspicion is that the new streaming entries from NBCUniversal and Viacom will lean equally on established cable channel equity to help audiences with decision making.
Promax, of course, hosted standout work from Netflix. Their “More Room, More Stories, More Voices” campaign is just one example. We saw superb campaigns from Hulu for The Handmaid’s Tale, Ramy and many more. Amazon proudly showed the remarkable success story of The Marvellous Mrs Maisel’s marketing. But equally we saw brand-defining work from cable and networks alike, from Freeform, IFC, and from the perennial Team-of-the-Year, FX, each proving that strong, clearly-communicated brand positionings remain the pathway to success, whichever end of Route 66 Promax ends up parking its wagon at.
Charlie Mawer, Executive Creative Director