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Magazines Look to TV…Again

Long publishers’ siren song, video is hotter than ever with Condé Nast, Hearst

Heidi Klum | Photo by Thomas Concordia/WireImage

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With print media in decline, magazine companies are working feverishly to get a foothold in TV and video.

Two that have been especially aggressive on this front are Condé Nast, which just started an entertainment division and hired cable vet Dawn Ostroff to run it; and Hearst Corp., which recently bought a 50 percent stake in reality TV mogul Mark Burnett’s production company.

Publishers have tried their hand before, but failed to find a sustainable business. But now they say they’ve learned, the hard way, that the magazine brand and show have to be seamless to boost that brand awareness. Sadly, the content often doesn’t translate well to the screen. Publishers usually don’t own the show, so they miss the full benefit of selling ads into them, and when integrated sales are attempted, the platforms still tend to be bought separately.

Failure can be embarrassingly public. Hearst’s joint venture with Lifetime parent A&E Networks—translating its women’s magazines into a network—didn’t turn out as hoped. Real Simple. Real Life, an ambitious lifestyle show TLC cooked up with Time Inc.’s Real Simple, was scrapped after 15 episodes. “The last great effort at synergy was Talk magazine, and it just didn’t work,” says Michael Hirschorn, CEO and founder of Ish Entertainment and a former New York magazine editor. Magazines are a great source of material, but they don’t bring in much money to the publisher, he said. “Unless you control every stage of the process, it’s hard to make a big profit in it.” One example that is considered a win is Project Runway, which has made a lot of money for Elle and now for Marie Claire through integrated ad buys.

Still, the latest forays are different because the appetite for quality brand-based video content is stronger than ever. That’s why Hearst bought into Burnett’s production company (which produces the competitive singing show The Voice on NBC) and is pitching an idea that would involve five Hearst magazines. A show like The Voice not only “provides us with a successful business but allows us to get other things done” by opening the door to new advertisers, says Scott Sassa, Hearst’s syndication and entertainment president.

Ostroff, who was at The CW and UPN, says she wants to build a library of Condé Nast’s content to market, along with its personalities. “There is an eagerness to have brands carry over to other platforms,” she says. “So my belief is that a strong brand will be a strong brand across all platforms.”

But even the most optimistic don’t see video fundamentally changing the business model. “Our core product will continue to be our print product,” says Michael Clinton, marketing president and publishing director at Hearst.