The next time you're in the mood to catch up with your
favorite television network, head to your coffee table. No, that's not where your
long-missing remote control is: It's where you're likely to find a publication devoted to
While much has been made of the aggressive brand extensions
that networks are pursuing on the Internet, many are also attempting to secure viewer
loyalty or to attract new customers via the print universe.
"Networks are surrounding the consumer," said
Peter Christanthopolis, Oglivy & Mather's president of broadcast and programming.
"I think that the magazines are very valuable branding tools."
Obviously, the network executives agree.
"It's very useful and important," said Brooke
Johnson, executive vice president at A&E Television Networks and publisher of the
successful Biography magazine.
"We want the ESPN brand to be available wherever
sports is watched, read, or listened to," said Judy Fearing, ESPN's senior vice
president of marketing.
"We want to hyperserve our viewers in this
category," said Lila Everett, senior vice president of marketing and communications
for Home & Garden Television.
Everett said publications not only improve the network's
relationship with viewers, but also with advertisers. "They see the magazine as
value-added. We can tie it to national [network] promotions. That's certainly valuable to
advertisers," she said.
"In a world of fragmented audiences, especially with
hard-to-reach men, [ESPN-The Magazine] is a very powerful draw for
advertisers," Fearing said, adding that the magazine and network-sales departments
look for ways to work together. "We want to offer advertisers marketing packages with
our Internet and radio, too. We have quite a few percolating, and we hope to do more and
more of that."
Not everyone has jumped into the fray: Discovery Networks
U.S. scrapped its publications in favor of its online efforts; MTV: Music Television and
VH1 have never considered the magazine path; and Comedy Central won't pursue it until the
network is better-established.
But plenty of networks are buying into the concept. And
while Christanthopolis warned against a market saturation -- "I don't think that we
can have 55 of these magazines" -- there are more on the way. Johnson said A&E
Network's sister network, The History Channel, is discussing a possible magazine.
"It's a logical opportunity," she said.
The existing publications run the gamut, ranging from
flimsy program guides to full-scale, independent publications. The magazines are expected
to stand on their own, while still enhancing the network's image; in contrast, the guides,
which cost about $1 per copy to produce, are not expected to make money. In fact, they
also double as affiliate-relations tools, promoting the networks to cable operators.
"TV is such an ephemeral product," said Colleen
Harkins, Goodlife Television Network's guide editor and network publicist. "When the
cable operator receives 20 pages in four-color month after month, it makes your product
seem a lot more real than a marketing piece does."
STYLE OF PUBS VARIES
In that regard, guides can be effective even when they have
little editorial content. Turner Classic Movies' Now Playing is on the skimpy side,
and it doesn't offer much beyond movie descriptions and program information. The heart of
its recent expansion was adding alphabetical movie listings.
The publication, like the network, is relatively new -- it
was started in 1997, said Katherine Evans, vice president of marketing for TCM, partly
because the network saw others doing it successfully, and partly because viewers were
inundating the network with questions about the 350 movies that were scheduled each month.
The network now prints up to 90,000 copies of Now
Playing per month, and it has about 50,000 subscribers. And Evans said most viewers
are interested in listings, and not stories.
"We may get to a crossroads," she said, since
more and more newspapers are listing the network, making the guide's listings less vital
"That may lead to more editorial," Evans said.
"Only time will tell."
The few articles in HGTV Ideas are self-promotional
and puffy, but each issue contains home and garden informational nuggets that the readers
won't necessarily find on the network: Useful sections include "The Gardener's
Bookshelf," "Style Tips for Your Kitchen" and "Bright Ideas," all
of which suggest projects, complete with directions.
This fits the mandate of the 70,000-circulation guide,
Everett said, because HGTV viewers and readers don't just want to be entertained.
"Our readers are information-seekers," she
explained. In fact, plans call for more how-to pieces, with fold-outs and step-by-step
instructions. Everett said she doesn't plan to make HGTV Ideas a newsstand
magazine, because she doesn't want to shift the focus away from promoting the network.
"The intention is to maintain it as a marketing
tool," she said.
At Goodlife, the guide is pivotal to helping to bring
viewers along as the network changes over from its previous incarnation as Nostalgia Good
TV. There's still a similar, wholesome feel, but the goal is to make it a more
forward-looking lifestyle network for young-thinking older people.
"We wanted to build some excitement for the new,
original programming," Harkins said.
The writing in this guide is, like the others, adequate but
workmanlike. But while the features lack inspiration, they manage to play up the subject,
while not overemphasizing the programming tie-in. Features on The Beach Boys, Shirley
Jones and Pat Boone each barely mentioned the corresponding program. And while the
magazine is short on editorial content, its various viewer contributions help to build
loyalty to the network.
Squire Rushnell, president and CEO of Goodlife TV, said
Goodlife's guide "has been an integral part of our growth." There's no tangible
way to measure its impact, but, he added, "All of the yardsticks for measuring things
in this industry are not too terrific."
Harkins said promoting the guide through traditional print
methods -- direct-mail and insert cards -- is most effective because it reaches potential
readers and viewers who are not in front of the TV. But Rushnell feels that the network
has not been promoting the magazine -- 35,000 issues published bimonthly -- heavily enough
on the tube. To correct that, he said, "we're launching a major campaign this summer.
The ambitious CEO also hopes to have it on newsstands in
the near future, saying that the guide "should be as powerful an instrument for our
organization as Modern Maturity is for the American Association of Retired
Yet Rushnell wants to keep the focus on promoting the
network's programming. He believes that those networks that have independent editorial
staffs for their magazines "have missed the boat, to some degree."
He termed Biography "a well-done
magazine," but, he added, "I don't get the sense that it's a fully integrated
communications tool for the network."
The others vehemently disagreed. Christanthopolis said the
publications should emphasize editorial over programming information. And while ESPN-The
Magazine will cover sports that inevitably are televised on the network, Fearing said,
"we would never compromise the editorial product of the magazine."
"We have to stand on our own in order to support the
network," added Biography magazine editor in chief and publisher Paulette
McLeod. "If we shill for them, we hurt the network brand."
PROMOTIONAL, BUT INFORMATIVE
Some guides successfully promote the networks with a
less-direct approach, relying on stronger, more sophisticated writing. American Movie
Classics magazine, which has 150,000 subscribers, evolved from something like TCM's Now
Playing to a publication that ran an interview of Martin Sheen by Stanley Karnow (who
won a Pulitzer Prize for Vietnam: A History).
And while the pieces are on the short side and rarely go
in-depth, the guide uses credible writers like film critic Andrew Sarris, who has
contributed stories on Henry Fonda and Steve McQueen.
Like the others, the AMC magazine is promotional, but often
in the guise of providing interesting tidbits. For example, a feature on Christopher Reeve
provided behind-the-scenes Hollywood tidbits (for example, Bruce Jenner was originally
considered for Superman) and comments implying that the first Superman film
was too reverential to the comics -- all material that read less like promotional fluff
and more like a genuinely interesting article, albeit one that makes readers want to watch
the network's airing of Superman II.
"We want to aggressively exert our expertise,"
said Tom Barreca, AMC's vice president of consumer products.
While the listings and promotional aspects drive
viewership, he said, the guide will include more nonpromotional genre pieces, like a
recent feature on drive-ins. Barreca's short-term plans include the network's first real
direct-mail promotional campaign to boost circulation, while down the road, he will
contemplate expanding this small guide into a full-fledged magazine.
That would follow in the footsteps of Sci-Fi Channel's Sci-Fi
Entertainment, which has an ideal marketing mix -- program listings are just a small,
but critical, section, in a thick, glossy magazine filled with ad pages and stories. There
are columns on television, films, books and alternative media, and fairly lengthy
features. The latter range from the obvious (TheX-Files movie), to the
obvious with a twist (a story on actors turned writers referred to both William Shatner
and the lesser-known Peter Jurasik), to the outright surprising (a memorial piece on the
impact of AIDS on the science-fiction segment of the entertainment industry).
The magazine is such a success that when the network
decided to revamp its on-screen Sci-Fi Buzz into a magazine show in May, it renamed
the show Sci-Fi Entertainment.
INDIES FOCUS ON CONTENT
Most of the strongest editorial product comes from
independent entities, which, although they sacrifice some marketing effectiveness, have
far greater revenue potential. A&E transformed its monthly guide into Biography
magazine, and its circulation has tripled, to 275,000. The network is fortunate that one
of its parent companies is publishing giant Hearst Corp. Of course, Biography
doesn't promote the whole network, but it supports the network's signature show.
McLeod said the magazine's readership skews more female
than the television show, and its stories reflect that. The network offers solid
historical pieces on subjects ranging from Rasputin to Nellie Bly, but its emphasis is on
relationships over hard facts.
The magazine also runs inspirational stories of ordinary
people and lower-level celebrities, like cartoonist Cathy Guisewite or designer Vera Wang,
as well as a "Where Are They Now?" section (Bobby Sherman is now a paramedic).
One problem is the magazine's apparent lack of access to
the contemporary celebrities that it focuses on. For example, a story on Johnny Depp is
littered with bits like, "He once admitted to Cosmopolitan."
ESPN gets all of the access that it needs to sports stars.
It has tried to differentiate itself from Sports Illustrated with more cluttered
visual content and more short pieces.
The value of its brand extension shows with its initial
circulation of 350,000, which it built through heavy cross-promotion.
"It's very important and very valuable to be promoted
on ESPN. The network has a large and loyal sports audience," Fearing said.
The magazine is a "logical extension," said Vince
Doria, ESPN's assistant managing editor, and not just because the writers and on-air
talent cross over in both directions. Friday meetings between the network, magazine, radio
and Internet incarnations of ESPN help the staffs to communicate. Doria pointed out that
the network can immediately break a story that is uncovered by the biweekly magazine's
reporters, while the magazine can go more in-depth on a story originated on television --
all while cross-promoting each other.
But nobody has created a more successful offshoot than
Nickelodeon: Its magazine just celebrated its fifth anniversary; its circulation of
875,000 is nearly six times what it started with; and the network claims that 6 million
kids read it each month.
Nickelodeon magazine tries to capture to network's
persona in print and to get inside the minds and goofy sensibilities of kids. Each issue
is reviewed by a panel of 50 kids from across the country.
There are cartoons; stories; contests; features on
Hollywood gaffes; interviews with marine biologists, professional surfers and other
ordinary and extraordinary folks; games; and song lyrics. (For example, bathroom protest
song "This Towel Is My Towel" is sung to the tune of "This Land Is Your
The magazine is also heavy on mainstream flavors du jour,
like Leonardo DiCaprio or Godzilla.
"We fulfill the Nickelodeon philosophy of entertaining
kids every which way," said Dan Sullivan, vice president of Nickelodeon Magazines.
And he pointed out that even though 85 percent to 90 percent of the editorial content is
distinct from the network, synergy is still possible.
For example, a Nick "Kid's Choice" survey was
promoted in the magazine, the polling was done online and the event was shown on TV. And
some advertisers, like Gap Kids, have come to the network through the magazine, Sullivan
Additionally, Sullivan said, since the magazine is often
read by parents, it "reinforces the positive quality of the network to them,"
making it a valuable marketing tool, even if it doesn't promote specific shows.