NBCU Switch-Up: Esquire Network to Take Over Style, Not G4 (Exclusive)

Bonnie Hammer
Douglas Friedman

Chairman, NBC Universal Cable

"In pursuit of that same demo [as Bravo, E! and Oxygen], Style presents brand overlap within our portfolio," Bonnie Hammer noted in an internal memo explaining the surprise decision, which will result in layoffs and an employee reshuffling.

When the Esquire Network launches later this month, it will do so not on G4 but rather on the Style Network, The Hollywood Reporter has learned.

The decision to rebrand the latter — a tightly guarded secret until this morning — comes as NBCUniversal Cable Entertainment Group chairman Bonnie Hammer looks to better define the brands in her cable portfolio. Of the many female-skewing networks in her purview, Style has been the least distinct, with programming that overlapped with offerings on E! (71 percent overlap), Bravo (69 percent overlap) and younger-skewing Oxygen (58 percent overlap). By removing Style, the remaining three women's nets should be able to better serve their respective audiences without that added level of brand confusion. For Esquire, the move enables the forthcoming men's lifestyle net to launch on a considerably larger platform. Style is not only better situated than G4 on the cable dial but also in more than 75 million homes compared to G4's 62 million. The rebrand will still take effect Sept. 23.

The strategic move comes some seven months after NBCUniversal's suite of cable networks was put entirely in Hammer's control. Prior to that, Hammer oversaw only half of the portfolio (cable nets including USA, Syfy and E!), with Lauren Zalaznick in control of the remaining networks (Oxygen, Bravo, Style). At the time of Hammer's February promotion, there was speculation that she'd look to make sense of the glut of female-skewing networks at NBCU. After all, one of Hammer's known strengths is her ability to create or more clearly define brands, as evidenced by her work with both top-rated USA and Syfy.

STORY: G4 to be Rebranded The Esquire Network

Style president Salaam Coleman Smith will remain with the network through the transition, at which time she is likely to find another role at NBCU. Hammer and her team will look to retain as many Style employees as possible, be it at Esquire or at one of the company's other female networks, but, at worst, the move could result in nearly 100 layoffs. Conversations about where high-level Style staffers, including Smith, could be repositioned will take place over the coming weeks and months. (Given the hush-hush nature of the situation, such discussions have not been able to take place until now.)

In an internal memo to her staff Monday, Hammer noted: "One of the hallmarks of our success is brand clarity. Our goal has always been delivery of compelling content by means of distinct, complementary brands, each in its clearly defined lane. With Bravo, E! and Oxygen, we offer unique takes on popular culture for an ever-broadening audience, including the all-important female demo. In pursuit of that same demo, Style presents brand overlap within our portfolio. Esquire Network, on the other hand, offers an opportunity to introduce a lifestyle network that speaks to an upscale male audience underserved in the current marketplace."

As part of the rebrand, some of Style's current series will continue on the Esquire schedule, while others will either end their run or move to one of the other logical women's nets. Oxygen, for instance, is the youngest skewing of the remaining trio (its top five shows have a median age of 25), with Bravo the oldest (median age 41) and most upscale. (E! falls in the middle, both in terms of age, 32, and viewer income level.) Giuliana and Bill, a top performer for Style, for instance, will likely move to E!, where Giuliana Rancic is already a major presence as host of E! News.

STORY: Style Network Unveils Bold Rebrand, New Logo

The decision to rebrand comes more than a year after Style unveiled a new logo and tagline — Work it. Love it. Style it.— in a bid to differentiate itself for viewers as well as advertisers and affiliates. Style had neither the ratings nor the brand recognition of its cable siblings, and at that time a comprehensive survey commissioned by the network revealed that Style would benefit from a much stronger point of view. Thus far this year, Style is averaging 79,000 primetime viewers in the 18-49 demo, which is fewer than Oxygen (217,000), E! (345,000) and Bravo (582,000).

Unlike its duplicative predecessor, Esquire is designed to fill white space. For several months, the men's lifestyle network has been peddled to both Madison Avenue buyers and Hollywood producers as an opportunity to reach a more mature, upscale and affluent male demographic — or in Esquire parlance, the "modern man." The pitch suggests that the network will fill a void left by more tough-minded, testosterone-heavy men's networks such as Spike and History. Much like the magazine with which it's affiliated, Esquire will focus on a host of different genres, from travel and fashion to food and beer.

This isn't the first eleventh-hour shift for Esquire, which announced in mid-April that it would be pushing back its April 22 launch date. At that time, the execs noted that doing so would enable the network to bow with five original series, including holdover American Ninja Warrior, as opposed to just two offerings. Esquire's other launch series will be underground, after-hours cooking competition series Knife FightAnthony Bourdain's celebrity-fronted travel series The Getaway, Ryan Seacrest-produced lifestyle series How I Rock It, and American Field Trip, featuring blogger/photojournalist Matt Hranek. Joining the originals will be off-net repeats of on-brand shows including Psych, Burn Notice, Party Down, Parks and Recreation and Late Night With Jimmy Fallon. There are many more unscripted entries in development, too, as general manager Adam Stotsky and his team inch closer to their long-term plan to be 100 percent dependent on originals.

G4 is expected to remain as is for the foreseeable future, though it's highly unlikely the company will invest in more original programming. Stotsky will remain in charge of that network as well as Esquire, which will remain his primary focus with regard to time, energy and resources.

E-mail: Lacey.Rose@THR.com
Twitter: @LaceyVRose