Almost all basic cable networks have their own Web sites, but only a handful distribute branded print products that generate revenue streams and bring more consumers into the tent.
Not all cable-network brands are strong enough to support a magazine title.
"If you do it right, it can be a tremendous asset," said The Yankee Group senior analyst Mike Goodman. "It has to fall into the product mix. If it doesn't, you are better off saving your money and focusing elsewhere."
The weak and uncertain advertising environment, combined with ongoing increases in paper and postage costs, have made for a chilly climate for any new publication. Some programmers, like Cartoon Network, are weighing the marketplace before launching additional print products.
MTV: Music Television also is considering a magazine launch, "but isn't on a timeline," according to a company spokeswoman. And American Movie Classics scuttled its long-standing AMC Magazine
in February, preferring to focus on its Internet properties.
But others are moving forward, like Scripps Networks' Fine Living, which bowed in March and was preceeded by a print product. And they're finding innovative ways to launch, rather than relying on traditional circulation and subscription models.
FLIPSIDE: NAT GEO
While print titles have followed TV networks, National Geographic Channel has arrived on the U.S. scene in reverse, emanating from the venerable yellow-framed National Geographic
magazine and its various TV series, specials and international networks.
For their part, ESPN, Nickelodeon and A&E all have found that a print product provides an additional opportunity to increase the network awareness.
Branded print products also play a role in cross-platform advertising. "Traditionally, we've often sought to buy across different components — a TV component, a magazine component, a radio and online component," said Universal McCann senior vice president, media planning director Steve Ozzanno. "What is different is doing it with a single company."
He points to a deal in which Gateway Inc. and Nickelodeon partnered on a media package that put the computer maker's ads on Nickelodeon, Nick at Nite, TV Land, Nick.com and Nickelodeon Magazine.
"It was integrated to the point where they were using Nick characters on the computers," Ozzano said. "It was a case where the synergies were perfect."
Print titles Nickelodeon
and Nick Jr.
provide true brand extensions for the network, according to Nickelodeon Magazine Group senior vice president Dan Sullivan.
"We can really gain share-of-mind with the audience off the air," he said. "We want the Nick brand to be ubiquitous in consumers' minds. Print is an entirely different medium, but it allows you to develop original and innovative editorial."
That's certainly an asset, considering that spending among kids 4 to 12 accounts for some $30 billion a year, according to the Center for a New American Dream.
began as quarterly in 1993, but now publishes 10 times annually. Over that span, its circulation has grown from 150,000 to 1 million. Targeting kids 6-to-14, its total readership stands at 6.6 million.
Aimed at the families of preschoolers, Nick Jr.
bowed in December of 1999, with an initial circulation of 300,000. The bimonthly now has a rate base of 800,000; its total readership is 3.5 million.
Both the Nick
and Nick Jr.
magazines have found advertisers among such disparate companies as Ralph Lauren, Tommy Hilfiger, Dodge and General Mills.
The titles are also part of an integrated, three-year deal with Ford Motor Co. for the Windstar minivan, worth a reported $20 million. The buy marked the first time an automaker advertised on a children's network.
The magazines have been part of similar deals with Sears, Roebuck and Co., the Milk Board and Campbell Soup Co.
When it comes to brand extension, ESPN — with its cable and radio networks, Web site and print product — has great reach, analysts said.
"You know it's ESPN the minute you see it or hear it," said Goodman. "Whether it's in print, on TV, on the Web or sent over wireless to my cell phone, it has that distinct feel."
By adopting a hip tone, colorful graphics and a unique editorial voice, the magazine has attracted young readers and posed a threat to Sports Illustrated,
which has dominated the sports category since 1954.
Currently, SI's circulation lead over ESPN The Magazine, which launched four years ago, remains comfortable — 3.15 million to 1.5 million. But ESPN
readers are young adult males, the darlings of Madison Avenue. The average ESPN
reader is 31, compared with 37 for SI.
"You can't give younger readers a magazine that talks about games and scores that happened last weekend," said ESPN.com and ESPN The Magazine
senior vice president and general manager John Skipper. "They've already seen the game on TV or read about it on the Web.
"So, we took a different approach, and decided we'd define the style and culture of sports. We are about lifestyles, not about balls and bats."
ESPN The Magazine
has a staff of 120 people. Each ESPN property has its own management, but the talent appears across all platforms. Dan Patrick, for example, still anchors the network's signature SportsCenter, but also hosts a radio show, and writes Web commentaries and magazine columns.
Cross-platform advertising is also key to ESPN's game plan.
"What you don't want to do is just go and bundle a bunch of media together. We aim to create partnerships and help the client figure what our various mediums can offer them," said Skipper.
One such deal was inked last year between parent The Walt Disney Co.'s ESPN/ABC Sports advertising unit and Monster.com. Reportedly worth $10 million, the deal crossed broadcast, cable, Internet and print lines. It also spawned a co-branded career site powered by Monster.com and accessible at ESPN.com.
ESPN's audience, many of whom are about to leave college for the job world, was a good match for Monster.com.
ESPN/ABC Sports has made several similar cross-platform deals, including those with VF Corp.'s Lee Jeans and Fujitsu America Inc.
TESTING THE WATERS
To coincide with the 2001 X Games, ESPN tested a prototype for EXPN Magazine. It scored well with advertisers and consumers, but the company is biding its time.
"Given the advertising market's difficulty right now we have not done another issue," Skipper said. "We still like the project, but we don't have a timeline."
Cartoon Network has also put its toe in the inkwell, launching Cartoon Network Magazine
in February. Aimed at kids aged 7 to 13, the magazine is available at Barnes and Noble, as well as through Scholastic Book Clubs and Scholastic Book Fairs.
Plans for a full rollout are on hold, though, as Cartoon Network weighs the magazine's retail appeal, marketplace conditions and distribution costs.
"It's a matter of when we have the time and energy and think it's commercially viable," said Cartoon Network vice president of off-channel commerce James Porges. "It's a very difficult market for magazines right now, but we think it may come back fairly quickly."
The debut issue cover showcases two popular Cartoon Network franchises —The Powerpuff Girls
Like many networks, A&E Network originally launched a print publication —A&E Monthly— as a programming guide peppered with some editorial content. Every quarter, the magazine polled its subscribers as to the types of stories they wanted to read, and "biographies always topped of the list," said Paulette McLeod, Biography
magazine's founder and general manager.
In January 1997 the network, which had already stripped Biography, its signature series, launched Biography Magazine. Since then, circulation has climbed from 90,000 to the 725,000, with a total readership of 3.8 million.
While the Biography
TV series — which will air its 1000th original episode sometime this summer — focuses on the famous, the magazine devotes more attention to ordinary people doing extraordinary things.
"It is something that's very well-received by our readers," McLeod noted.
To build circulation, the magazine depends on the Biography
Web site (www.biography.com) and direct mail. "Our renewal rate is out of this world, thank you God, considering this crummy market," McLeod said.
For a recent A&E series, The Impressionists, the network created a cross-platform package for DaimlerChrysler Corp.'s Chrysler Infinity, including an advertorial in the magazine. The network and magazine have separate sales staffs, but work closely together to create custom ad opportunities, McLeod noted.
BEAMING UP NEW READERS
An extension of Sci Fi Channel, the recently relaunched Sci Fi Magazine
hopes to drive the genre's fans to the network and its Web site.
Last year, the title was put on a six-month hiatus and redesigned. Editorial was brought in-house. With three new issues under its belt, Sci Fi Magazine
hopes to see its 40,000 circulation climb by 25 percent by the end of this year.
By anyone's account, December 2001 was not a great time to relaunch a magazine. "When business is tough and you know you have a good product, you need to go for it," said Craig Engler, general manager of SciFi.com and the magazine. "I believed there would be less competition when the ad market was slumping, and it would actually be easier to prove we're the top dog in our field."
The title is available by subscription and at newsstands and specialty shops. The scifi.com Web site also generates new magazine subscriptions, Engler noted. Plans call for Sci Fi Magazine
to have its own complementary sub-site at scifi.com, which would include editorial copy not found in the print publication.
The network airs a dedicated commercial for the magazine that highlighting the contents of each issue. For instance, one recent spot tied the miniseries Firestarter Rekindled
to a related feature from Sci Fi.
Still, the publication walks a fine line regarding coverage of its sister network. Engler said it is as likely to cover The WB's Smallville
as a show on Sci Fi.
At the same time, covering Lord of the Rings
or the latest installment of Star Wars
extends the network's brand deeper into psyche of the genre's fans, he added.
Video distributors, video game manufacturers and specialty sales are a big part of the magazine's advertiser mix. Sci Fi
draws specialty clients, while the Web site and network pull in more high-end deals, Engler said.
For the upscale Fine Living — Scripps's newest cable network — a magazine is integral to the business plan.
Taking an innovative approach to distribution, some 1.3 million copies of Fine Living's debut were distributed as inserts in 70 U.S. newspapers during February. The target: designated market areas and ZIP codes identified with a median household income of $75,000.
"On the business side, it is an extraordinary way to deliver the magazine to a targeted group of people without having to manage a subscriber circulation base," said Fine Living senior vice president of business operations and acquisitions John MacDonald. "It costs pennies compared to a traditional distribution model."
Since its debut, however, the magazine has been put on hiatus. The network has deals for analog and digital distribution in 5 million homes and wants to determine how the magazine can strengthen the Fine Living brand for cable and satellite affiliates.
"One of the reasons we're stopping to take a bead on the magazine is that we want to really sit down and do it right," said Fine Living president Ken Solomon. "We now know we can turn out a high-quality product. Now, we want to do it in a way that is not only to our advantage, but to the advantage of our affiliate partners."
Building programming awareness, customizing the cover to showcase affiliates, and creating local marketing and advertising opportunities for MSOs are some of the avenues under consideration.
Efficiencies in cross-platform editorial content and advertising are a key focus for Fine Living
magazine, Solomon said.
"When content can travel across multiple platforms and the brand message travels across them as well, you've created a better mousetrap," he said. "One great thing about the magazine is that it sits on a table two or three weeks.
"It has more of a shelf life, and takes your message and brand to the audience in a completely different way."