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Editorial: Branding on the Menu at CTAM

Jul 21, 2003  •  Post A Comment

Clearing the name “Spike” for the relaunch of the cable network previously known as The Nashville Network, The National Network and The New TNN was a bigger hurdle for Viacom than expected. In reality, however, it is only now that the real task begins for the male-targeted programming service. It faces a challenge that is all too common among myriad cable networks competing on an ever more crowded media landscape: How to consistently attract viewership and build a loyal audience.
In the early days of cable, the race was on to build systems. In the next phase it was about building distribution and hooking up with the best available programmers. Today the challenge is to market each show, create a brand and differentiate the service in the consumer’s mind. The competition is not only broadcast networks and approximately 300 competing cable and satellite services but also all the other leisure-time activities available to the contemporary consumer in person, online and elsewhere.
There are many ways to tackle this incredibly difficult and extremely expensive task. A number of those alternatives will be discussed this week in Seattle at the annual CTAM Summit. While attendance at trade gatherings in recent years has waned in the face of consolidation and economic downdrafts, the pressing challenges faced by today’s cable marketers make this confab more important than ever to attend.
Building a brand is one of the most daunting tasks in television today. As those behind Spike TV certainly know, there’s much more to it than a name change. Networks not only have to devise and promote a compelling identity, they also have to back it up with relevant programming and take every opportunity to remind viewers that they have the goods.
Part of the challenge is audience fragmentation, which is at an all-time high. When viewers had fewer choices, channels with easily explained concepts such as music, news, sports or food could hold their attention. Now, while viewers may sample a highly visible relaunch or well-promoted tentpole television movie, they’ll make a habit of watching a network-and believing cable marketers’ efforts-only if what they find when they tune in lives up to the marketing promise.
So as top industry leaders meet this week in Seattle, they are at the center of the greatest challenge yet for cable TV programming services. The future success stories-the channels that will rise to the top of the ratings-will be those that can effectively sell seductive shows and then deliver satisfying viewing experiences over and over again.