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This story first appeared in the Feb. 21 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
Two weeks before Esquire Network’s September launch, word broke that it would replace NBCUniversal’s Style, not the male-focused G4 as first planned. The upstart men’s network inherited one of cable’s most female-focused brands, even though it was available in more homes than G4. Those demographics have proved a big obstacle: Esquire’s audience in January was 36 percent lower in total-day viewership and 43 percent lower in primetime (only 85,000 overall) than that of Style a year earlier.
“Having the opportunity of Style’s broader distribution footprint has been incredibly helpful for us, but it made our challenge different,” says Esquire president Adam Stotsky. “We inherited this brand that was 80 percent women but in very short order transformed the makeup of that audience.” For its catalog of unscripted originals, 12 of which debuted during its first three months, Esquire is skewing decisively more male. The beer-centric Brew Dogs, culinary tour The Getaway and football-focused Friday Night Tykes average more than 60 percent males, including many in the target 18-to-49 demo. Tykes has proved a breakout. Esquire improved its total-day haul among men 18-to-49 by 27 percent in January compared with the same month for Style in 2013.
With a modest marketing push, Esquire has had to rely largely on word-of-mouth. It seems to be working, albeit slowly: Total-day viewership in January (63,000 on average) was up 56 percent from the network’s first full month, when Style viewers evaporated. “You’re going after men, and men don’t watch as much TV as women. It’s getting more male viewers, but it’s not a dominant male network yet,” says Brad Adgate, senior vp and research director at Horizon Media, adding that patience is key to rebranding any cable net. “Look at how long it took the Oprah Winfrey Network to hit its stride, and that came in with the greatest brand name.”
Such broad-skewing series as Burn Notice and Top Chef, borrowed from siblings USA and Bravo, respectively, fill days once occupied by Style’s Sex and the City repeats. But Stotsky says Esquire’s goal is to build a distinct mix of original plays and on-brand repeats.
“We’re borrowing where we see fit and doing some strategic acquisitions to round out the slate,” says Stotsky, who anticipates that 15 to 20 new offerings will join the network’s schedule in 2014. “Our focus is really on originals.”
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