Sound move for BBC magazines?

The BBC is extending its Top of the Pops brand into the glossy magazines market.

SBHD: The BBC is extending its Top of the Pops brand into the glossy magazines market.

The BBC has done well at turning strong broadcast brands into successful magazines. It is no surprise then that the BBC has finally come round to one of its best loved properties, Top of the Pops, which will launch as a magazine this week.

In most cases, a committed audience – whether it’s Gardener’s World or Top Gear – supplies a bedrock of potential readers eager for more of the same. TOTP is still achieving viewing figures of about 9 million, so it would seem ripe for the process of brand extension.

But is it really a strong brand? TOTP has undergone a repositioning over the last year under executive producer Ric Blaxill. (This parallels the more publicised one taking place at Radio 1.) Part of the programme’s historical audience – what might be called the TOTP gold section – has been given its own hybrid show, TOTP 2.

Some observers suggest it could be difficult to translate this twin-track approach into one magazine. Although the BBC has a track record of expanding magazines that work into all surrounding niches, this has not always been a success. Rightly or wrongly, BBC Magazines has decided to target the younger end of the programme’s existing audience, while also reflecting what it calls the “broad appeal of the programme”.

Editor Peter Loraine, former celebrity editor at Just 17, says: “It’s almost like a style magazine for teenagers – 15 or 16. Ideally, it’ll be older than Smash Hits and younger than Select.” If the programme’s brand credentials fail with this audience, the magazine will find life more difficult than the TV show because a conscious purchase is involved, says one media director.

The BBC has taken the full frontal approach to brand extension. Virgin 1215, meanwhile, is developing a more guarded line in its association with the Haymarket music magazine Encore – due to launch in April.

Haymarket will publish and distribute the magazine, and Virgin will supply only its endorsement with the words “officially approved magazine” around a Virgin logo on the front cover. As brand extensions go, it might be seen as relatively low key.

And it may come as a surprise that Virgin has decided to create a magazine in its own image but not its own name. After all, Richard Branson has hardly been shy of putting his company’s name to available products.

The arm’s-length approach to the Virgin brand is based on the belief that consumers do not always want to get too close to a brand. “We didn’t want to produce a contract publishing magazine because we didn’t think anyone would be interested in that,” says a Virgin spokeswoman.

The magazine will not contain “a day in the life of a Virgin DJ” type features, although the radio station will have a certain number of editorial pages allocated to it every month.

Encore editor Paul Colbert, brought in to advise on the project, says the magazine will address that uncatered-for audience that Virgin claimed it would reach when it first came on air.

“The Virgin connection is useful for readers – there’s an association but not an overpowering one – and it’s not an arm-twisting exercise,” says Colbert.

It remains to be seen whether Virgin will use this uncharacteristically modest approach to branding again.

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