Three Rs of TV success

f2_120In a bid to convince the uninitiated that Sky One is about more than sci fi and The Simpsons, BSkyB is about to unleash its biggest brand overhaul of the channel, coupled with a heavyweight advertising campaign.

The revamp, which sees Sky One changed to Sky 1, and sister channels Sky Two and Three changed accordingly, comes into effect from the end of this month (MW last week), but Sky is not alone in looking to branding to drive home a point about its programmes and positioning.

UKTV, fresh from the success of rebranding UKTV G2 as Dave, is looking for more of the same in three new monikers: Go On Laugh Daily (Gold), which replaces UKTV Gold; Alibi, presently UKTV Drama; and new Richard & Judy-fronted channel launch, Watch.

By the first quarter of this year, Dave’s reach had grown by 84% since its launch six months earlier, with, on average, 25 million viewers tuning in. While most of the growth was due to Dave’s debut on Freeview, reach in cable and satellite homes had also risen by 39% and 23%, according to Broadcasters’ Audience Research Bureau data.

Meanwhile, ITV will next week unveil the new look ITV2, now the UK’s biggest non-terrestrial channel, and Channel 4/Bauer joint venture 4Music starts broadcasting from V Festival this weekend. And in March RTL Group-owned Five rebranded Five Life as Fiver just 18 months after the digital off-shoot launched.

Such launches, rebrands and revamps from among the UK’s best-known broadcasters seem to underline a growing dilemma for those players in a multichannel world looking to increase standout through channel, portfolio and programme brands.
For Sky One controller Richard Woolfe, the challenge was to marry a two-year programming overhaul he undertook after arriving from Living TV with a complementary new look. It was also a chance to get rid of the “Sky Onc” tag the station found itself with in 2004, because the “e” looked more like a “c” on-screen.

Woolfe says: “I felt that as a viewer and when I was a competitor, I never knew what Sky Onc meant or stood for, from either a brand or a programming point of view.”

Now, though, he insists Sky One underpins Sky’s credentials as a premium content provider, aimed at a family audience. “The most important thing is that Sky offers the complete package. It is the very best in sports, news and movies and now we are, as entertainment, helping to complete the jigsaw.”

Woolfe adds: “This rebrand will make viewers reappraise their opinions of Sky One. People think of the Sky platform as football and movies, whereas now they want to get Sky and enjoy Gladiators.”

Such a “premium” entertainment positioning, as heralded by new strapline “There’s only one”, may be important to Sky, given that its basic channels, such as Sky One, no longer appear on Virgin Media, and as the rate of adding subscriptions slows.

One broadcast analyst says that not only does Sky face renewed competition from cable rival Virgin Media, but platforms such as Freeview, Freesat, Tiscali and BT, but that those customers who would be easiest to convert have dried up.
“Those customers who want premium sport or movie content have most likely already
subscribed to the service,” he says. As such, the satellite operator “must do more” to add value to its proposition or face missing an already ambitious target of 10 million subscribers by 2010. As of last month it was at 8.9 million TV subscribers.

UKTV, buoyed by the success of Dave, is overhauling its entire portfolio, with Watch, GOLD and Alibi launching in October. Come 2009, UKTV factual and lifestyle channels will be given the “Dave” treatment. Tom Lucas, UKTV marketing director, says: “The big network brands might make superficial brand changes but they don’t go back to their roots. This is about taking bigger commercial risks.”

He says that there is “tremendous” competitive pressure facing the UKTV business because of content becoming more available in more places and at more times. “Simple category descriptors as names probably don’t have the resonance that viewers need,” says Lucas, who suggests consumers are increasingly looking for “editor brands”, “channels that can help viewers steer through the minefield of content out there”.

Yet as Karmarama creative partner Dave Buonaguidi warns: “If all that has been done is change the name, then it’s a short-term strategy – it won’t last you more than a year.”

He points to Channel 4 – where, until 2000, he was creative director – as a broadcaster that has invested in its masterbrand and thus been able to create a strong, differentiated portfolio. The broadcaster was also instrumental in the way it has marketed its programming, creating just a few, but heavily promoted, marketing campaigns for its content, backed by brand ads starring its roster of talent.

It’s a template it is following for the launch of 4Music, and one that both Sky and ITV seem to be emulating. ITV, though, is adamant that it is going one further, by looking to leverage the ITV brand through the programming it creates. Group marketing director David Pemsel says that the broadcaster has created a number of programme brand roles that sit across platforms, and as original ITV Production shows can be expanded outside of the TV bubble. He further believes that “the brand is in better health now than it has been for a long time, particularly ITV1”. ITV2 will be relaunched next week, and Pemsel hints that ITV3 and 4 will soon be in line.

ITV’s strategy of pushing its home-made shows is a canny one, providing the channels can also prove popular with viewers. The strength of particular hit shows has been proven to undermine a broadcasters’ positioning if carried on rival UK networks. The CSI franchise runs on Living and across Five’s channels, with many viewers, according to Buonaguidi, choosing the show over the channel. A choice made easier in the days of EPGs and digital recorders.

“The programming is almost the fruit that comes off the tree. If you know what you stand for then it makes the scheduling easier as well,” he continues. “With brands such as CSI it’s such a strong brand that you can pretty much watch it anywhere. With something like The Simpsons or Friends there are clear formats, people are familiar with the show and you need to make sure the viewing experience is better on your channel. It’s a bit like radio, where all the stations get the same music but it’s the way that you link that music or when you play it and the environment it’s played in that makes consumers choose one station over another.”

The UK’s commercial broadcasters are reappraising their portfolios and positioning in an always on, multiplatform world, a trick already practised by their public service, and publicly funded, rival BBC. The BBC was already a “portfolio” broadcaster with radio and TV when ITV launched in 1955 and continues to dominate those media and UK online, as well as with its fledgling TV on-demand brand BBC iPlayer.

The cross-platform service, backed by the might of the BBC moniker and marketing has outperformed its commercial rivals, with over 42 million programmes accessed in its first three months alone and 20 million in June. A clear indication of the power of its masterbrand, coupled with the might of its programme brands.

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