Inside Cable's Makeover Wars
THR goes behind the scenes as NBCUniversal's Style network becomes the latest to rebrand in an increasingly crowded (and copycat-laden) market.
Makeovers are an essential staple of fashion and beauty content, and so it is, on this day in early June, that five executives are huddled in a Los Angeles conference room debating color hues and fonts.
"It's like getting ready for the prom with all this nervous energy," jokes Style Media president Salaam Coleman Smith of the Style network rebranding process that has dragged on since fall. On June 25, the femme-skewing cable net, known for such series as Tia & Tamera, Giuliana & Bill and Sex and the City repeats, will flip the switch on its new logo, website, tone and tagline: "Work it. Love it. Style it." New programming, which will increase by 25 percent, will revolve around style experts, with entries including Betsey + Lulu, featuring fashion icon Betsey Johnson and her designer daughter, and Pop Style, a topical weekly fashion and pop-culture show.
The rebrand comes as Style, now part of an NBCUniversal portfolio heavy on women's networks, looks to further differentiate itself -- among viewers, advertisers and affiliates -- in an increasingly crowded cable landscape. According to SNL Kagan, Style, now in nearly 78 million U.S. homes, is expected to generate $93.5 million in net ad revenue in 2012, with buyers including Pier 1, General Mills and Nestle. Although viewership among women in the coveted 18-to-49 demographic is up 25 percent this year, Style has neither the ratings nor brand recognition of siblings Bravo and E! A comprehensive survey commissioned by the network revealed that Style would benefit from a much stronger point of view.
Hence the makeover, the latest network effort to cut through the clutter with a new -- or at least newly polished -- brand, following E!, TV Land, Lifetime and others. "The copycat and derivative nature of a lot of cable programming demands a stronger brand identity for each of these networks," says Linda Ong, president and brand strategist at Truth Consulting, which is not involved in Style's reboot but has worked with Bravo, History and is prepping a fall "refresh" for The CW. "The average viewer is suffering from category confusion, and the only way to clarify is to surround the programming with a brand point of view unique to the network."
Such work typically costs $800,000 to $1 million, according to sources, and occurs at the direction of new management -- as is the case with Style -- or a big shift in programming philosophy. Both were so with top-rated History's 2008 makeover, a broadening of a network once best known for crusty World War II documentaries that is arguably the most successful rebrand of the past decade. (Critics have been less positive about Syfy's 2009 makeover, which centered on a name change from Sci Fi to the phonetically similar Syfy.)
According to Bravo and Style Media president Frances Berwick, network branding has taken on increased importance in the digital age. "If you just see shows in a list on iTunes or Netflix, you want somebody to immediately have an association with the network," she says.
Berwick adds that the rebrand is designed to help the net own the style and beauty category on TV. To that end, she gathered the senior team in September for an off-site meeting at Soho House in West Hollywood. They discussed what was (and wasn't) working for the 13-year-old brand. From there, senior vp brand strategy and creative director Bear Fisher spearheaded the larger rebrand process, beginning with an extensive "brand equity" study that revealed the style category is not yet saturated in the way the food, celebrity and lifestyle categories are. A more finely tuned research effort and help from design firm Gretel, which has worked with Bravo, came later.
On this June day, the quintet of branding, marketing and programming execs, joined by Berwick on teleconference from New York, met in a third-floor room lined with lists of brand attributes considered early on -- think "passionate" -- and mood boards created by staff to help determine the net's new direction. As they prepare to embark on a road show for advertisers and affiliates, the props are a reminder of how far the group has come since January.
"We had a table piled with 50 different magazines" for the staff to clip from, says Fisher. "We wanted to know what spoke to them, what made them stop in their tracks." At the end of the four-hour experiment, Fisher had collages communicating optimism, glossiness and an obsession with shoes that would come to define Style's new look. Ditched were descriptors such as "fierce" and "influential," with the former feeling too dated and the latter too dry.
While much remains to be done during the final days -- voiceover talent is being whittled; musical interludes are being recorded -- the execs are encouraged and eager to make a splash. "We're like proud parents," says Smith, assessing the decidedly louder new logo. "Our baby is the cutest baby in the hospital."
TA-DA! DO YOU LIKE ME MORE NOW? Three other nets under new management or changing direction also recently rebranded
♦ On July 9, E! will roll out its year-in-the-making logo and "pop of culture" tagline, designed to remind its younger-skewing viewers that the NBCU-owned network is at the epicenter of pop culture, be it with live events or reality TV.
♦ On May 2, Lifetime unveiled a stylized "L" logo and tagline aimed to integrate the net's new programming direction with the sensibilities of today's multitasking woman -- and shed its image as the home of maudlin made-for-TV movies once and for all.
♦ On May 9, TV Land introduced a logo that speaks to the modernization of a channel once known for decades-old sitcoms. The Viacom-owned net now features originals including Betty White's Hot in Cleveland and Fran Drescher's Happily Divorced.