What if marketing digital TV channels turns out to be like selling chocolate bars to a kid in a sweet shop? When over 200 channels become available, the relationship between viewers and TV brands will change dramatically. And when this change takes place, the eagerness of magazine brands to move onto TV could lead to interference in their long-term vision and the loss of brand identity.
The ITC has levelled the playing field by allowing magazine brands to lend their names to TV programmes, just as TV programmes have been free to extend their brand into the magazine sector.
But as magazine brands race to be first on air, hoping to gain valuable exposure for a title, their guardians should examine the possible downside of a TV marriage.
TV viewers of tomorrow will be spoilt for choice. How they navigate around these channels will be crucial in determining the value of magazine-branded programmes to the host channel, advertisers and the publisher.
Maybe we will all be discerning viewers. I might scan the Radio Times for 30 minutes every day and plan my viewing for the evening ahead.
Or I might look for help, perhaps someone to edit the choice down for me. I might look for strong TV brands that may not tell me exactly what programme I will see, but the type or quality of programmes I can expect. I might seek out the attitude that links the programmes together as a channel rather than any individual programme.
In all probability, the majority of viewers will have seven or eight favourite or “default” channels which they consider first and deviate from only for a specific programme. These default channels will have to have strong brand personalities. Viewers will choose Live! TV for irreverence; Sky Sports for live sports, Bravo for eccentricity, and Tara Television for Irish TV.
The opportunity exists for a magazine – as a provider of a trusted and successful editorial formula – to provide a strongly defined channel carrying a name that is useful to a channel surfer.
But that’s not where publishers are heading. Being mooted are weekly or even daily programmes which attempt to re-create a magazine’s unique environment – the special relationship between editor and reader – for just an hour.
This is where the danger lies for magazines. Imagine a magazine show called Cosmopolitan on UK Living where the ad breaks are filled not with international perfumes and fashion brands, but soap powder and home exercise equipment. Imagine the show being preceded by highlights from the Women’s FA Cup semi-final and followed by I Dream of Jeanie.
How would Cosmopolitan readers view the TV version of the magazine and how would this affect brand loyalty?
Digital TV may present a fantastic opportunity to a magazine brand, but the advice must be to tread carefully. New magazine brands may have little to lose in making a TV programme as they could adapt and grow along with the channel. But, those magazines with an established brand personality may lose the faith of traditional readers.
By losing control of the way the magazine brand is presented to the consumer, the publisher risks damaging the magazine’s relationship with readers – the unique and elusive environment advertisers find so valuable.