At Ion Television, it's out with the older-skewing programming and in with contemporary dramas that executives hope will help lower the network's demographic.
The new focus is touted in a rebranding campaign that launched Sept. 7, with the tagline “Positively Entertaining.” The rebranding is timed to the debut of off-network acquisitions, including ER, Boston Legal and NCIS.
Ion has been phasing outdated series such as Mama's Family and Diagnosis Murder, fare that put the channel alongside such older-skewing cable networks Hallmark Channel and TV Land, said chief marketing officer Eleo Hensleigh. The new series were strategically selected to lower the network's overall audience draw to adults 25 to 54, a 15% drop in the network's historic demo.
Now, the channel is more competitive with general-entertainment networks such as TNT and USA Network, Hensleigh said.
Since those networks carry the same or similar off-air syndicated fare as Ion's new acquisitions, Ion can advertise its shows on those channels. “We want to go where the people are” with the rebranding spots, she said.
Since Ion televises the same type of shows, it's easier for advertisers to add the network into its buys on networks like TNT, added Brandon Burgess, chairman and CEO of Ion Media Networks.
The programming shift has already resulted in increased upfront sales and a different advertising mix, Burgess said.
Ion, which has a mix of broadcast and cable affiliates, was launched 10 years ago as family friendly Pax TV. It adopted the Ion brand two years ago, but kept the same programming mix. Pharmaceutical was the predominant advertising category, Burgess noted.
Following the upfronts, though, Ion signed a deal with Honda, its first automotive sponsor. Ion has also added Walgreens as a sponsor, as well as financial institutions and some restaurants, he said.
The new programming mix also allowed Ion to adjust its rate card to demand commercial sales rates more comparable to the TNTs of the world, Burgess said.
Currently in more than 94 million homes, the channel is delivered by affiliated broadcast stations and as a satellite-delivered cable and direct-broadcast satellite channel.
The rebranding includes a new logo (an orange dot with a plus sign inside it), a more contemporary look to on-air promos and a different color palette. Hensleigh said the channel worked with a Los Angeles design agency to come up with the overall package.
Ion executives wanted a tagline that speaks to the channel's new goals, but is flexible enough to work in several different ways, she explained.
“Positive” doesn't necessarily mean wholesome, she explained, but can mean “positively outrageous” in the case of Boston Legal or “positively smart,” in the case of the writing on ER.
The rebranding campaign will also address one of the most frequent misconceptions about Ion: People don't think they have the channel on their local lineup. The rebranding is designed to elicit interest in the channel so consumers go looking for it. The Ion Web site, which will also be relaunched at a new URL on Sept. 8, will help consumers to locate the channel in their market with a ZIP code tool.
The new shows aren't the only programming changes for the channel. In 2009, Ion will add The Ghost Whisperer and Criminal Minds to the mix. Burgess said Ion is also negotiating for more off-network series that are still in broadcast production and that Ion may have “an original project or two” next year.