Networks take marketing approach

This year's new television season may be ushering in a new era in broadcast marketing.Unlike the past, in which the focus was on the hot shows and the new program genre, the emphasis now seems to be shifting to broadcast marketing...

This year’s new television season may be ushering in a new era in broadcast marketing.

Unlike the past, in which the focus was on the hot shows and the new program genre, the emphasis now seems to be shifting to broadcast marketing and ‘branding.’

With the upcoming threat of more channels and menu-driven services, the networks are looking to use brand identity as a means of staving off further share erosion.

The networks, however, seem to differ in their definition of a ‘brand,’ and appear to be torn between the fact that viewers generally watch programs, not networks, and the need to differentiate themselves.

The question then is, in positioning themselves as a brand or in branding their product, will the focus be on symbol recognition, brand personality, specialty programming or specific demographic or psychographic segments of the population?

Regardless of the approach, the one thing that is certain is that a business that has been short term-oriented with new shows, new genres and major cancellations in schedules each year may need to become more long term in focus.

This new search for a marketing solution is just beginning. In the meantime, it is somewhat business as usual.

Last year, reality programming was the big genre and it reflected, to some extent, the mood of the nation and because it was cheaper to produce and required less creative work, it helped the networks to weather the recessionary storm.

But too much reality is not good as viewers cooled to this genre and networks found that ad revenues were 25% less in these shows than drama and comedy.

Violence in programming is also on the decrease as this, too, has become more of a reality in daily lives, and viewers no longer want to confront it also on television.

One-hour programs are less dominant on the schedules as well.

This may be due to the restlessness of the nation in that viewers are no longer prepared to sit for an hour at a time, or the inability of the writers and producers to command attention for long periods of time.

What is quite evident this season is the preponderance of comedy and family situation programs on the schedules.

The continuing recession and increase in violence in society may have something to do with this.

The emphasis on family situations in most of the scripts speaks to the fact that family life is becoming more important in society today.

The problem appears to be that society is having a tough time defining ‘family.’

This is reflected in the variety of family situations that exist in the new lineup of shows. We have single dads, single moms, mixed parents, those who are divorced or widowed, bachelors adopting children and unmarried fathers.

This is probably the only trace of ‘reality’ that still exists on the networks this season.

With this said, the following are our predictions for the new season.

The clear-cut winner this fall is Dave’s World on cbs.

It is funny and smart, and deals with everyday issues in a believable manner. It is the perfect lead-out for Evening Shade as it picks up the pace to lead into a revitalized and more strident Murphy Brown.

Keeping in mind their core (adult 25-54) audience, cbs has more programming that complements its schedule.

For example, Harts of the West is no big hit, but it serves as an excellent bridge between Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman and Walker, Texas Ranger.

Strong program

The Trouble with Larry gives cbs a strong family program.The revamped Friday night cbs lineup addresses the need for more older skewing programs with It Had to be You and Family Album. The target audiences for these shows are older, and cbs will get them.

Giving the popular Connie Chung her own show (as well as a seat beside Dan Rather) will also be a winner against women 25-54.

The network does not have the touch of gold. The Nanny will tire quickly, and South of Sunset will not pull the viewers in.

Fox knows its success lies with adults 18-34 and that it must be on the cutting edge to reach them. Gearing up for seven nights of programming, Fox has gone back to the hard-hitting formula that launched the network.

Even the best of the new Fox shows – Sinbad, Townsend Television, and, perhaps, The X-Files – will generate attractive numbers only in certain specific demographics.

‘Exclusivity’

Part of their success is the ‘exclusivity’ of their viewership. Unfortunately, the celebrated Fox attitude will not save Buddy Blues.

As well, unless the commitment to news programming is rock solid, the future of Front Page, Fox’s first foray into news, is bleak. Shows such as Daddy Dearest, The Adventures of Brisco County Jr. and My Girls will deliver historical Fox numbers.

abc, because of haphazard results last year, finds itself in transition. This unevenness carries over into new programming.

While everyone is bucking violence, abc has the Stephen Bochco NYPD Blue, which may have trouble securing advertisers given its grittiness.

While reality shows decline, the network puts Daniel J. Travanti in Missing Persons (a reality-based drama).

It has Paula Poundstone scheduled, but is unsure of the format for the show. It has two shows that follow the same theme – Thea and Grace Under Fire.

George (Foreman) as a retired boxer turned inner-city school teacher has been done.

nbc once had the best brand position in television. Unfortunately every line in its stable was, for a variety of reasons, discontinued.

As it rebuilds, it is hard to see any kind of general theme for its schedule.

Cafe Americain (dubbed Cheers in Paris) will be gone by Thanksgiving. An official Cheers spin-off (Frasier) will benefit from ex-Cheers writers and the post-Seinfeld time slot to survive through the season.

Unfortunately, nbc has scheduled the strong The John Larroquette Show up against cultural icon Roseanne. If he can get away from the large Tanner shadow, it could be a hit.

It is brave of the NBC News department to launch Newsmagazine, given its last year, but Tom Brokaw and Katie Couric are the right mix to make a go of it.

Against the Grain has been called a White Shadow/Evening Shade combination, which is promising. The Second Half looks like a strong show in the Full House vein.

nbc will put Steven Spielberg’s futuristic underwater show SeaQuest DSV up against 60 Minutes.

As with all other contenders, including abc’s Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, the cbs newsmagazine juggernaut will remain unaffected.

Summarizing the new fall lineup, we can see one clear hit with Dave’s World. The Second Half, The John Larroquette Show and The Trouble with Larry all have the potential to move beyond survivor status with some luck and/or rescheduling.

Buddy Blues, NYPD Blue, Thea, Grace Under Fire, Missing Persons, George and Cafe Americain are not long for this world.

Closer to home (without schedules) the following are the top five new shows for Toronto: Dave’s World, The John Larroquette Show, The Trouble with Larry, It Had To Be You and The Second Half.

Looking at the bigger picture, the overall top 10 will consist of: Murphy Brown, Seinfeld, Roseanne, Wings, 60 Minutes, Dave’s World, Home Improvement, Northern Exposure, Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman and Murder, She Wrote.

Sherland Forde is senior vice-president, media director and group account director at Toronto-based D’Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles. Aaron LaFontaine is vice-president, deputy media director and manager media negotiations.