CTAM in NY: In Network Brands, Let the Shows Do the Talking

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When it comes to the question of which came first, the show or the brand, the answer, expectedly, is not so clear-cut.

Using a hit show to redefine a network was the topic at hand at Thursday's panel "Transforming a Brand -- From Hit Show to Hit Network" at CTAM in New York.

"We had a brand before we launched a huge hit show, but then the show then became the launch pad for what the brand became because we saw what was working with the audience" said Frances Berwick, president of Bravo and Style Media, speaking about Bravo's Queer Eye For the Straight Guy.

Queer Eye, through its five male hosts, illuminated the five passion points of the Bravo audience -- food, fashion, beauty, design and pop culture, points that would manifest in future network shows like Top Chef and Project Runway.

"Those then became the tenets of the network out of which we then created a development filter," she said. "Everything that we developed fell within that framework. It started it all."

Perhaps the most often-cited example of a show transforming a network is AMC's Mad Men, and as such Ed Carroll, COO of AMC Networks, tends to believe that it is the show drives the brand.

"I think it's always the show," Carroll said. "I have come to believe the audience tells you where they're willing to go. You get that first show and then the work really starts because no network wants to be just one show. So you have to convert that show into a mandate."

Herb Scannell, president of BBC Worldwide America but former president of Nickelodeon employed a similar strategy at the kids channel based off the success of the series You Can't Do That on Television, which portrayed a world where kids were smarter than adults.

"That was really the signature of Nickelodeon," "And all the shows that were made afterwards, we always took the kids side," he said, citing later hits Rugrats and SpongeBob SquarePants. "That's really what put Nickelodeon on the map, this attitude of celebrating kid-dom."

At BBC America, Scannell follows three guidelines to build off the network's base audience and create hit shows: First, get the brand right, which he said meant teaching the channel not to take itself so seriously when he took over in 2010. Second, leverage off that, find what works and double down, as the network is doing with a planned spinoff show from its massively popular Top Gear franchise. Third, take a big swing, which the network will do with the upcoming period drama Coppers, its first originalscripted series, about an Irish police officer.

"It's not necessarily British, so it's a little bit out of character, " Scannell said of the series.

And as panel moderator Jason Klarman, president of Oxygen Media, noted at the start of the panel, more than 100 shows launched this summer on cable and broadcast, making it increasingly difficult for any show to break through the clutter. So to ensure a show can gain enough viewers to support a brand, it's increasingly important to be present across multiple platforms.

For the unscripted series of Bravo, that means creating a conversation around characters that viewers want to know and interact with,like those of its popular Real Housewives franchise, to help drive live tune-in.

"The real learning for us has been we can mitigate the DVR use a bit by creating an event," Berwick said. "The audience doesn't want to talk to the network. They want to talk to each other while they're watching the show. With unscripted shows, they want to know these people."

For scripted it takes a different approach, including video-on-demand and free previews online to increase awareness, which Fox recently did to much success with the premiere episode of New Girl.

"In the case of Breaking Bad, I don't think it would be on the air were it not for the multiplatform world," Carroll said, noting that the series premiere had the unfortunate task of going up against a Giants-Packers football game that went into overtime.

As a result, AMC started promoting the male-targeted show to VOD and online previews, and now in its fourth season, the audience has doubled.