News

Execs Debate Programming in Clutter Era

4/12/1998 8:00 PM Eastern

New York -- In this era of fewer hit series and declining
audiences for the broadcast-television networks, buyers and sellers of commercial time are
struggling with various other problems, ranging from a diluted talent pool and maintaining
brand identities to clutter.

The proliferation of TV- and cable-programming services is
"diluting" the talent pool, Neil Braun, NBC Television Network president, told
his audience during a session on the future of programming at the Association of National
Advertisers' TV forum earlier this month.

That proliferation is also contributing to the loss of a
sense of "mutual communality," or the shared experience that network TV once
offered, added Jon Mandel, senior vice president at Grey Advertising.

Ad agencies are "beating up" the networks on the
commercial-clutter issue. Yet Mandel told the ANA's advertiser-oriented audience that
clients have been part of the problem, too, by, for example, pushing to shorten spots from
30 seconds to 15.

Panelists could not come to a consensus on which is more
important to draw viewers -- branding a network or the programs that the network carries.

"It ultimately boils down to individual
programs," said Jeff Lee, president of BET Networks, although networks' brand
identities also "help to get consumers to the actual show." As he put it,
"You don't look in the tuxedo section [of a store] for jeans."

Betsy Frank, executive vice president of research and
business development at MTV Networks, also felt that programming was the place to start,
saying that VH1's brand identity didn't take shape until Pop-Up Video and
other music-focused series clicked with viewers.

To the TV-network executives -- Braun and David Poltrack,
executive vice president of research and planning at CBS Television Network -- the network
brand is key. Viewers "perceive a certain kind of program on CBS and a different kind
of program on Fox," said Poltrack. That said, he felt that a network and its
programming define each other.

"Both have to work together." Braun agreed.

Mandel warned attendees not to downplay the role of
marketing, adding, "You can't have new programming that walks too far from the
[network] brand."

Touching on program costs, Poltrack said low production
costs need not mean lower programming quality. He pointed to CBS' 60 Minutes
and NBC's Dateline as shows that offer high quality despite low production
costs. Such newsmagazines have also proven to be competitive with primetime entertainment
fare, he added.

Programming in the future was also on the minds of MTVN
executives at a press briefing to announce youth-market-research results.

Frank said MTVN's researchers have found that
"Generation X" (which MTVN defines as ages 18 to 24) and "Generation
Y" (ages 12 to 17) have increasingly similar attitudes on various matters, in sharp
contrast to their once-polarized views.

Both groups, for instance, have similar favorites among
musical performers (such as Puff Daddy, Toni Braxton and the Spice Girls) and among
primetimers on network TV and cable (ranging from Seinfeld and The Simpsons
to South Park and wrestling), Frank said. Both segments also share a cautious
optimism, they are protective of their privacy, they are media-savvy and they are
suspicious of advertising, she added. The youth segments also are much less interested in
earning lots of money and in the notion of fame than they were just two years ago.

Such findings are important, since MTV: Music Television is
"a channel that will change as its viewers change," Frank said. Already, its
research findings have influenced MTV's pickup of a new reality-based series, True
Life
, and the network's revamping of House of Style to a how-to show from
one about supermodels, noted Todd Cunningham, MTV's research vice president.

While such research offers guidance, Brian Graden,
MTV's executive vice president of programming, stressed, "It's not as if
we'd do a show tomorrow about a kid, 19, who loves his parents and wears a giant
[Nike] 'swoosh.'"

New media are also important to MTVN's audiences,
Frank said, making a teasing reference to an upcoming leisure-time research report. Kids
aged four to 11 are "the most active drivers" of online/Internet as
entertainment, she disclosed, while teens tend to use those media for chat. "We will
be paying a lot of attention" to those findings in the months ahead, she added.

But well-branded networks, like Nickelodeon and MTV, have
nothing to fear from the newer media, said John Popkowski, MTVN's president of U.S.
ad sales.

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