Long Live Channel Brands


The Future of TV - Channel Brands

Amidst all the recent talk about connected TV in general and YouView in particular, to which Red Bee Media has contributed (for example, our Future of TV event with Media Guardian), I noticed a thought-provoking quote from Steve Morrison, CEO of independent production group All3Media. Interviewed by Broadcast, he said YouView will be a “game changer” because “viewers will identify with programme brands irrespective of what channel they are on”.

An understandable point of view from a leading programme-maker, but is that really what will happen in an increasingly on-demand TV world?

Our biggest, best-loved hits (think The X Factor, Friends…the usual suspects) could probably thrive independently in a multi-platform environment, unconstrained by host channel brands. A small minority of shows (The Wire, The Inbetweeners…) could probably build critical mass amongst clearly-defined demographic groups based on word of mouth and clever social media marketing alone (assuming brave programme makers are prepared to risk the initial investment). But what about the vast majority of new dramas, new comedies and new entertainment shows? How will they cut through, build awareness and reach the magic point at which Steve Morrison says viewers will identify with them, without a clearly-defined and relevant channel brand to propel them?

A valuable perspective is offered by a recent piece in The Hollywood Reporter entitled When TV Brands Go Off Brand The article examines the case of buddy-cop drama Terriers, which looks like being axed after just one season of disappointing viewing figures on cable channel FX. From the creator of Ocean’s Eleven, with strong characters and clever writing, Terriers has been critically acclaimed and has built a loyal core of fans. However, big ratings haven’t followed and The Hollywood Reporter offers a clear reason: “The real problem is that it doesn’t reflect the FX brand”. Their diagnosis continues: “Series on FX have balls…they are aggro, not Zen…in Terriers, no amount of clever riffing can mask that it’s about as edgy as Murder, She Wrote…the show just always has felt out of place”.

This reminds me of a research study we carried out at Red Bee Media to test the relevance of channel brands in shaping viewer expectations. We invented some programme titles and asked 5,000 viewers which conclusions they would draw from two alternative descriptions of the fictional programmes. The results were revealing.

For example, 62% of people thought a programme called Save Me on BBC 2 would be a hard-hitting documentary about single mothers failing to cope. However, the same programme title on Sky One was expected by 80% of respondents to be a reality show with past celebrities pleading for a career revival.

77% thought The Unknown Prince Charles on BBC 4 would be an informative documentary about his role and achievements, whereas 53% anticipated the same programme title on ITV 1 to be an expose by ex-girlfriends and servants.

In our survey, 71% of people agreed that the TV channel a programme is on affects their expectation of the programme. A new drama called Terriers would create very different viewer reactions if aired, say, on LIVING or BBC Three or maybe More4, with its performance strongly influenced by the extent to which it fits the channel and keeps it “on point” (to use The Hollywood Reporter’s phrase).

As excited as we’re all getting about the liberating possibilities of connected TV, it would be a mistake to underestimate the enduring power of a clearly positioned, well marketed channel brand to make or break the success of a programme brand.

Andy Bryant, Director, Creative