In Multiplatform World, Categories Still Rule

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During Promax/BDA this week, we can count on plenty of marketing guru conversation about branding traditional, linear television networks across video-on-demand, broadband, mobile and other media platforms which add to today's viewer experience and promise to grow our businesses. But don't overlook the strongest marketing tool already at our disposal — the branded linear network itself.

That's especially true if the network in question is a category brand, the too-often-undervalued programming weapon that has evolved into an all-powerful driver of users to every media application.

Unfortunately, it seems that many distributors have given up on the feasibility of new television networks and are rushing to focus promotion and marketing efforts on nonlinear media platforms because of their undeniable promise. The truth is, even in our universe of 1,000 channels, there's real need for new, linear network category brands, provided they're smart and differentiated categories that audiences care about.

To be sure, a “category brand” network doesn't mean “niche,” which targets a narrow audience segment. Rather, they're well-defined yet broad-appeal program services that reach a large and prequalified audience of like-minded, passionate viewers.

The first cable channel categories were simple: news, sports, weather, music, etc. Those expanded to include broad-based lifestyle networks like travel, food, art or golf. The evolving multichannel business begat the advent of the lifestyle brand, and category networks are the media foundation for whole communities of these passionate viewers.

Beyond preventing viewer churn, if you develop a strong category-based network with a built-in community, you'll consistently be able to attract highly engaged viewers and drive endless new brand-related products and services VOD is a great example. The most consistent driver of users to any VOD service is the content associated with a trusted and related network brand — typically a brand associated with an air-and-water category that's driving audiences from the scheduled linear service out to more personalized on-demand, non-linear programming.

Forecasting the demise of linear television and the inevitable takeover by internet-delivered content is a popular pastime for tech bloggers. What they often miss is that the linear branded network is still far and away the No. 1 marketing tool for growing these platforms. Fans quickly divine these networks as the one place to go for everything they want about their home, travel, art, sports, lifestyle — you name it. Once there, right in the hub of the category brand's wheel, they naturally venture out via the different platform spokes — VOD, broadband, mobile and other applications. Clearly we're not witnessing the end of the linear TV business, but rather the newest, most powerful iteration of personalized media ever.

As our business continues to seek the secret recipe in this tectonic media landscape, a strong, broad-based linear network category brand is and will remain the most powerful tool to engage and drive audiences to future amazing new delivery platforms.