MIPCOM: Bravo, Turner Executives Say Companies' Success About Branding

Frances Berwick

Frances Berwick and Michael Wright deconstruct cable's rise.

In a pair of back-to-back Mastermind Keynotes at MIPCOM Monday two U.S. cable executives from different Hollywood conglomerates stressed one key element in describing their companies' success: "brand consistency."

In addition, both Bravo and Oxygen Media president Frances Berwick and TNT/TBS/TMC president Michael Wright emphasized the importance of corralling the best talent and creating an environment in which they can thrive both creatively and commercially.

"What's distinguished Bravo from other nonfiction players," Berwick told MIPCOM-goers at the Palais' Grand Auditorium, is "our unjudgmental tone. We let viewers have their own takeaway: Some find our characters ridiculous; others think they're role models."

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Berwick, who started her career at Channel 4 in the U.K. before moving to Bravo in the mid-'90s when it was barely on the map, also stressed the importance of casting in explaining the success of such long-running reality TV franchises as Top Chef, Real Housewives and Project Runway.

Despite now juggling a whopping 17 new and 26 returning shows on Bravo, Berwick's latest goal, she told the audience, is to branch out into scripted series, a genre she recognizes as financially more risky but which can provide more durable assets. Nonfiction fare costs 15 to 20 percent of what it takes to create a fictional series, she estimated. Still, she added, when fiction works, it travels better and it can be repeated for much longer.

Although he manages a completely different programming operation, which relies mostly on fictional fare, Wright too said it was fundamental in the beginning to describe the corporate vision and programming strategy to advertisers and to creative types when he began to upgrade the Turner-owned channels almost 10 years ago.

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"At first we were laughed out of a lot of studio offices," he remembered in explaining the effort it took to convince A-level talent to come aboard and be part of the TNT/TBS experience. "But we knew we wanted show creators who understood our brand and that it was about providing the viewers with a great experience. Peter Roth [currently Warner Bros. Television president and chief content officer] was one who helped out." Once Kyra Sedgwick agreed to star in a series and The Closer caught fire, the sailing got easier for the cable networks.

Wright now describes the TNT/TBS duo alternately as "smart popcorn" or "quality escapism." "Our shows -- be they Rizzoli & Isles, Falling Skies, King of the Nerds -- don't take themselves too seriously, but they do endeavor to take the viewer on a great ride."

Both executives also emphasized how well their programming portfolios perform internationally -- so much so in Bravo's case that the company has not felt compelled to launch entire Bravo-branded services abroad via cable or satellite: Pure license fees from free-to-air broadcasters, payboxes and SVOD startups are sufficiently lucrative.

Berwick was interviewed onstage by her corporate colleague Kevin MacLellan, chairman of NBCUniversal International, while Wright chatted with Ben Silverman, founder and chairman of Electus. The latter two are also both former agents: Wright at CAA and Silverman at William Morris.