Long reads

Market forces: the importance of channel branding

In an age of multiplatform distribution and à la carte consumption of content, the channel provider’s brand is becoming ever more important.

A+E Networks' Swamp People










As distribution channels become more diffuse, branding becomes increasingly important for broadcasters keen to ensure that their content does not become lost in the mix or associated exclusively with the brand of the distribution channel it happens to be viewed on.

As user-generated and web-based content become more pervasive, many channel providers increasingly emphasise quality as a key brand value. “Our core brand value is to offer content of the highest quality, across all our channels and in all genres,” says Jesús Perezagua, president, Fox International Channels Europe and Africa. “We combine this with strong scheduling and marketing to create channels that we believe are very attractive to operators and audiences. I think operators and viewers trust that Fox and National Geographic will bring them quality.”

Within that framework, Fox, like other channel providers, has sought to expand its portfolio to reach a broader demographic via targeting a number of specific sub-groups with tailored offerings. “The drive for quality, for excellence, is shared across all our channels regardless of the type of content or the target audience and that won’t change. But we’re always looking to reach more viewers and to bring them channels that they feel connected to,” says Perezagua. “National Geographic’s family-oriented programming and Fox’s general entertainment attract upscale 18-49 audiences. Nat Geo Wild and Fox Life, Fox Crime, Fox Retro and Fox Movies allow us to reach more targeted demographic groups to complement our flagship channels and provide viewers, affiliates and advertisers with more choices.”

The company also makes an effort to tailor its channels to individual local markets to make them relevant for affiliates, advertisers and viewers, he adds.

Similarly, A+E Networks International, with a channel that traditionally has appealed more strongly to a male audience – History – and another, Bio, with a slightly broader appeal, has branched out further with Crime & Investigation, and is planning within the next year to launch international versions of Lifetime, a US channel that appeals strongly to a female demographic.

“From my experience there is no lack of interest from an operator’s point of view to discuss Lifetime,” says Dean Possenniskie, managing director, Europe at A+E Networks. “From our point of view it’s about preparing and waiting for a place where we can get a partner. Lifetime is a very successful channel in America. There is no lack of interest and we are not far away from a place where we could have some exciting news about Lifetime in the next year.”

Building on the strength of brands developed in the US and complementing that with local production is a tried and trusted path for a number of channel providers, and A+E is no exception. For Possenniskie, A+E’s strength is in the quality of its programming. “For C&I it’s the quality of what we’ve built up in America, complemented by the strength of some of the local production,” he says. Crime & Investigation has most recently launched in the Middle East, and further launches are likely in central and eastern Europe in the near term.

History, meanwhile, says Possenniskie, has evolved with a more contemporary feel, which impacts how the channel is branded on air and on the shows it carries. One of A+E’s recent achievements has been the launch of History in India to over 40 million homes.

For newer entrants to the international channels market, a common strategy is to concentrate on one or two flagship channels rather than launching larger portfolios. US-based channel operator Scripps Networks Interactive operates six channels in its domestic market but is focusing on two of its brands internationally. The Food Network launched first and has established itself in several key markets. It was followed by the launch of Fine Living Network.

Scripps’ strategy for Food Network is to launch the channel into some key markets first before beginning to localise it. The UK has been the most successful market for the channel, where every TV platform bar Virgin Media carries the channel. According to Bob Baskerville, general manager Scripps Networks International, the channel’s success is down to the popularity of food as a genre and the fact that its US produced programming benefits from commonality in language with the UK. “If you look specifically at Food Network UK, we really believed in the brand equity we had built in the US with great food programming and great talent. We had the ability to extend the shows and talent around the world. We wanted to start specifically in the UK because there are less barriers of entry from a language perspective.” The next stage was to introduce locally-produced content, which came in the form of Andy Bates’ Street Food and Reza’s Indian Food Palaces which aired this year.

Scripps is hoping to extend this model of launching locally with “global” content before localising the channel to other European markets. “We’ve seen some great growth in the UK and would like to speed up the growth in other parts of Europe. We will start with a similar formula to the UK – taking the content we have today and looking at a road map that offers more local originated content,” he says.

Market position

For Bruce Tuchman, president of MGM Networks International, which distributes the MGM Channel and MGM HD Channel internationally, the key is to remain nimble and to focus on developing and refining a brand that is associated with a strong and specific market positioning. “With more brands and content out there it’s about refining and simplifying our brand image – what people expect from our channel is always the number one thing,” says Tuchman. “We are an incredibly famous brand that resonates well and most people know it. We want to keep it relevant and fresh and link that to the programming.”

In practical terms this means maintaining the loyalty of existing (possibly older) viewers to the MGM Channel for whom the MGM brand is iconic, while attracting and appealing to younger viewers. “The brand presents an opportunity and a challenge,” says Tuchman. “Most people associate MGM with great movie products and that’s an incredible opportunity – we own the largest film library. For younger audiences the challenge is to invite them in, especially to experience our library films.”

One way to do this is to emphasise the HD experience. “Mostly it’s about scheduling and how we get people involved. HD is vital in that. Something like West Side Story is unbelievable in HD,” he says.

MGM currently has seven HD channels globally. The company is also extending the MGM brand by offering on-demand services associated with the channel. “Our channels do [on-demand] in a number of markets around the world. If you are a subscriber to the channel you get access to a branded MGM [VOD offering]. We try to make it a complement to the channel itself,” says Tuchman.

In Spain, Liberty Global-owned channel provider Chello Multicanal provides a wide range of channels specifically designed to cater to local tastes. According to Eduardo Zulueta, managing director of Chello Multicanal, the company is focused on growing its audience level, increasing brand awareness of its individual channels and expanding the distribution of the channels to new technology platforms. The company does a research exercise three times a year to find how its brands are perceived. He says the core descriptors associated with Multicanal’s channels are that they are “rigourous, trustworthy, entertaining and family oriented”.

One key element in Multicanal’s marketing strategy is to focus on the individual channels and their own unique identities. “All our brands are independent and do have a common strand or something that would identify them as related to one another,” says Zulueta. This is partly related to the fact that not every Multicanal channel is on every distribution platform. Zulueta says that Multicanal now has a full portfolio of channels by genre. However, the company is likely to seek to expand its HD offering (currently based on HD versions of movie channels Canal Hollywood and joint-venture MGM Channel) by launching two of its documentary channels in HD in the near future.

Expanding reach

News broadcaster France 24 has seen its footprint increase to 174 million homes less than five years after the channel first launched. Last year it began broadcasting a dedicated 24-hour Arabic language channel, joining the existing English and French versions.

According to Frank Melloul, France 24’s head of strategy, development and public affairs, the channel’s success can be put down to an early decision to make it as widely available as possible, rather than targeting a single geographical area. This means delivering global news, albeit from a French perspective. “From the very beginning, France 24 has positioned itself as a global media company covering international news,” says Melloul. The fact it can do so in English, French and Arabic stands it in good stead in terms of appealing to local audiences.

Melloul also points out that the channel was instantly seen as an alternative to existing channels such as BBC World, CNN International and Al Jazeera that were well established but delivered news from a UK, American or Middle Eastern viewpoint. “In concrete terms, we offered audiences a new perspective on current affairs, with more debates, more culture [programming], more interaction and a focus on topics and places that other channels would not necessarily explore. That’s the meaning of our claim – beyond the news.”

The Arabic version of France 24 has gone down well with viewers, says Malloul. During the Tunisian revolution at the end of 2010/start of 2011, France 24 claimed it was the most-watched 24-hour news channel in the country. Research found that 78% of Tunisians trusted France 24’s coverage of the events, while internet traffic from Tunisia to France 24 increased 980% in January.

For Michael Peters, CEO of pan-European news channel Euronews, owned by a number of public broadcasters around Europe, the brand strength of his channel – in an era when ‘news’ is available from multiple sources on multiple devices from the web – is trustworthiness. The company’s content – which comprises short-form video reports without a traditional news anchor to make the links – lends itself well to on-demand platforms. The strength of the Euronews brand, says Peters, is not in the channel as such, but in the editorial value of the content itself.

Peters says Euronews’ intention in extending the brand to non-linear platforms and developing apps is “not just to be everywhere” but to “deliver the right content in the right place”. Instead of delivering the linear channel on multiple devices, his goal is to deliver news content that matches the context of the activity of the individual viewer or user. “That’s why we launched No Comment TV first on YouTube rather than the Euronews channel,” says Peters.

Euronews is also planning to launch a Polish version of the channel following its Ukrainian launch earlier this year. The channel has been test-broadcasting in Polish between 17:00 and 24:00 since July, but hopes to follow this up with a full launch at the beginning of 2012.

The broadcaster is also to trial more localised content, starting with its Ukrainian version from October 5. “Some programmes will be replaced just for Ukraine with Ukrainian content,” says Peters. “This is just a test – we want to see how well it works.” He says that doing this on a permanent basis would be a significant change and would need to be weighed up carefully and discussed with shareholders. Peters stresses that Euronews would not seek to compete with national news providers but would continue to focus on stories with an international dimension even where it looked to local production by in-country journalists.

Touch points

For Turner Broadcast System, which operates channels as diverse as news channel CNN Europe, kids networks Cartoon Network, Boing and Cartoonito, and entertainment networks TCM and TNT, brand is more closely bound up with individual channels and, within the kids genre especially, individual properties. Casey Harwood, senior vice-president, Turner Europe, says that the kids offering is now solidly bound up with the multi-part concept of “watch it, play it, share it, wear it” – a concept that encompasses licensing and merchandising of toys, games and clothes around key properties such as flagship show Ben 10. “It doesn’t matter where the first touch-point comes from,” says Harwood. “You can be drinking out of a Ben 10 mug or watching YouTube.” In its marketing activities, Turner is also focusing on so-called ‘tentpole’ programmes (including Ben 10 and The Smurfs) and events built around them.

In measuring the success of its brand strategy Harwood says that Turner has moved away from a fixation on overnight ratings and “share of viewing” to “share of actions”. This has meant a more sophisticated use of data to monitor brand awareness among the target audience.

It follows that extending the channel brand beyond the core linear channel model is also something that Turner will consider in certain circumstances. However, Harwood says that any such initiative has to have the interests of the pay TV business in mind. He points to the example of its Boing joint venture with Mediaset in Italy, which has been managed “so that we are reaching a different audience segment to Cartoon Network and Cartoonito”, he says.

The kids genre certainly isn’t underserved by channel brands. Dominated by established and influential players including Turner, Disney and Nickelodeon, newer entrants have had to market themselves carefully to stand out from the crowd.

KidsCo, which recently entered its fifth year, has made a strong play on its safe, non-violent programming. Its first years have been categorised by aggressive growth across the globe in terms of markets served, but according to Paul Robinson, global CEO and founder, the channel is still an infant in distribution terms. He says it needs careful nurturing as a brand if it is to see further growth by entering new markets, securing carriage deals with bigger pay TV operators and moving into operators’ basic packages: “Building a brand is not a trivial issue. We are at the early stages, and while KidsCo is becoming known we are a baby brand with a lot of work to do,” says Robinson.

KidsCo has positioned itself as a family friendly, safe offering with an educational element, a differentiator that Robinson says is proving to be attractive for parents and channel operators alike. “There’s a growing concern amongst parents about the media that their children are consuming. Parents recognise that children are increasingly becoming more media literate than they are. There is therefore a greater interest in a service that is taking a great deal of effort to ensure the content is appropriate for children. That need is probably greater now than when we established the company four years ago.” It appeals to platform operators too because they can use KidsCo as part of their affiliate marketing and it chimes very well with their desire to be a trusted and family friendly brand, adds Robinson.

Niche markets

Other channel providers also cater to a range of distinct niche audiences. Sony Entertainment Network’s (SEN) Sony Entertainment Television (SET) and Sony MAX target people of South Asian origin. SET’s core European market is the UK, where there is a significant concentration of South Asians. However, the company is also eyeing distribution opportunities elsewhere, as well as looking to launch additional channels in the UK. “We are continuously looking to launch new channels in the international market, particularly in the UK and Europe,” says Neeraj Arora, executive vice-president and head of international business, Sony Entertainment Network. “The Sony Entertainment Network includes several channels which are not currently available outside of India. However we see the potential of these channels, in the European market especially, such as Sony SAB – the only dedicated comedy-centric Indian channel – and future channel launches. Our target demographic is broadly spread across the UK and Europe in all regions.”

Arora says that SEN’s core brand values are built around “six pillars” – honesty, transparency, passion, continuing to be forward thinking and continuing to “lead the pack and not be a follower”. “We have always had the confidence and passion to move forward and bring new things to the market for our viewers,” he says. “Some things work and some don’t. However the fact that we are not content in being ‘part of the pack’ is testament to our success so far. In addition to this, and in contrast to our competitors, our programming has a major international – outside of India – appeal due to the content being more relateable by the younger Asian audience.”

Future evolution of the brand will focus on the network’s individual channels, including MAX and SAB as well as SET, which Arora says “always look to offer a full 360 degree entertainment experience for our viewers” with mass appeal. While further channel launches may focus on specific demographics, “the brand values of SEN are always enforced”, he says.

Adult video provider Marc Dorcel has a history dating back to 1979, giving it a certain kudos within its genre. However, far from relying on a reputation as a traditional adult provider, the brand has become synonymous amongst service providers for the roll it plays within new technologies. According to managing director Gregory Dorcel, the company is regarded as a “new media specialist”. It launched its first VOD offering in 2001, began airing 3D content last year and is present on a variety of devices, including tablets and connected TVs. “The brand has a long history, which gives us experience and unquestioned know how. We are therefore perceived as a serious, professional and high quality brand – a classy adult entertainer. But we are also well known to be at the forefront of technology,” says Dorcel.

While embracing new technologies is important to keep up with pay TV operator developments, Dorcel says that the quality of content is still far more important to viewers (the company aggregates content from over 50 studios, making it the largest adult content aggregator is Europe). From a viewer point of view, marketing the technology behind Marc Dorcel’s services is less important than promoting the content. And while the obvious target market is men, the company is actually putting much of its marketing effort on attracting women to the traditionally male-dominated genre. “Men can see the quality of the content as soon as they use our services and that is the key to customer loyalty,” says Dorcel. “The most important thing for us is to convince female partners that they can watch our couple services without feeling uneasy or considering it taboo. That way, we can multiply the possibilities in the market. “


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