Cable Gets Into the Music Act

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Several cable networks have tuned into
the music-competition genre with a group of freshman series
that look to sing and dance their way into the hearts of
cable viewers.

A genre once considered
the purview of
the broadcast networks
with such popular
shows as American Idol,
Dancing With the Stars,
SoYou Think You Can
and, more recently,
The Voice, cable
networks such as BET
(Born to Dance) CMT
(CMT’s Next Superstar),
GMC (America Sings),
Bravo (Platinum Hit)
and Oxygen (The Glee
) have launched
music competition series
that they believe
play well to their niche
viewers while appealing
to a broader, promusic

Viewers have already
sung ratings
praises for many of the
shows. The Glee Project
— a reality off shoot of
Fox’s hit music dramedy
Glee — is averaging
nearly 1 million viewers since its June 12 debut for Oxygen.


Oxygen Media president Jason Klarman said the show’s
premise of ordinary, underdog and unknown singers looking
to make it big has played well with the network’s target
female audience.

“It’s representative of the Glee brand — all these kids don’t
come from central casting and probably won’t make it on a
typical [music competition] show — they’re tall and short, fat
and thin, black and white and from all areas of America, but
they are super-talented,” he said. “That’s what makes it relatable
to our viewers — they look like everybody else.”

BET’s Born to Dance, in which Lady Gaga choreographer
Laurieann Gibson nurtures and oversees the competition
between 20 female dancers as they battle for a $50,000 prize,
drew 1.23 million viewers in its Aug. 2 debut, the third-biggest
reality series premiere for the network in 2011.

“The special thing about Born to Dance is, it’s very positive
and inspiring — Laurieann Gibson is on a mission to give
dancers her wisdom and the tool that they need to make it to
the next level,” Charlie Brookins, BET senior vice president
of original programming, said. “Dance is a visceral art form
and combines a music and movement element that people
not only like to watch but feed themselves in it — people like
to dance.”

Other shows seek to strike a chord with targeted niche audiences.
CMT’s Next Superstar, which launched earlier this year
and put 10 undiscovered country music singers through the
paces of a competition eventually won by Indiana native Matt
Mason, filled a void that wasn’t completely served by more established
music-competition series, according to Jay Frank,
senior vice president of music strategy for CMT.

“Cable in particular specializes when it can find a targeted
niche and nails it,” Frank said, adding CMT has already
ordered a second season of Superstar.

Unlike typical music-competition show winners, Mason
will gain much exposure on the show’s network through the
airing of future music videos and will be part of a CMT country
music tour that gets extensive coverage on the channel,
Frank noted.

“When we create a star, we have an entire channel to
continue that momentum of the stardom outside of the
show,” he said. “We don’t rely on just the show to break
and make him a big star.”


Some networks are looking for variations on the music/
competition theme to differentiate themselves from other
networks. For GMC’s America Sings series, that meant
letting viewers vote on performance videos submitted by
choirs around the country, rather than staging live competitions.
Fitting the brand, the choirs choose inspirational
songs in musical genres ranging from gospel to doo-wop to
barbershop, GMC vice chairman Brad Siegel said.

Executives said they’re not concerned about the proliferation
of music competition shows in the marketplace. Consumers,
they said, can’t get enough of music programming.

“Music is more important in people’s lives today than
it’s ever been and people want to engage in music in so
many different ways, whether it’s watching more videos
online, listening to [online music service] Pandora on my
television or SiriusXM Radio in a car,” CMT’s Frank said.
“There is the ability for multiple shows with different angles
to succeed in the marketplace just because it feels like
the demand for music entertainment programming overall
is nearly bottomless.”