When Diluting your TV Brand is the Best Strategy

By Graeme Newell 

-Brand expansion is the most viable growth option for many TV channels.
-What appears to be short-sighted brand dilution is actually a strategic long-term growth strategy.
-Classic Madison Avenue brand-expansion strategy is the best teacher for those of us in TV.

Blatant Brand Dilution?

For a generation the rules of TV branding have been clear and unequivocalfind a specific niche audience, then hyper-serve that niche with specialized programming. But lately, that rule has been turned on its head by some of the industries most powerful players. Now you will find cooking shows on the Syfy Channel, Mike Tyson on Animal Planet, standup comedians on History, and obsession-disorder reality shows on VH1.


Whats going on? After a generation of building specific content niches, programmers now have their sights set on broader audiences. It appears that TV history is reversing itself. Television begin with three broad channels, then splintered to hundreds of content-specific cable networks. Now those same niche cable channels are rushing to widen their audiences again by expanding beyond their original content agenda.

But what appears to be blatant brand dilution is actually just a snapshot in a very long-term, strategic strategy that has been going on in the product world for decades. It is a text-book example of how small brands get bigger. It is a classic strategy practiced by powerhouse brands like Proctor & Gamble, Virgin and American Express.

Smart Brand Expansion Strategies from the Cable World

SciFi’s recent rebrand to SyFy is a classic example of this strategic brand expansion. After spending years doing all they could to nurture and woo the science fiction audience, the programmers realized that the genre was maxed out. No matter how great their marketing, there just weren’t enough people interested in science fiction to allow much further growth. SciFi was forced to make a hard decision–be content with paltry growth or expand its original programming mission to bring in new audiences.

Discovery, one of today’s most successful channels, went through this same dilemma decades ago. When Discovery launched, it was a hard science channel filled with documentaries on everything from wildlife to astronomy to anthropology. Today, it has kept its science heritage, but has methodically and patiently rebranded itself as an adventure channel. It went from hard science, to softer science, to softer science with adventure, to where it is today–an adventure channel with a science heritage.

So what appears to be brand dilution on the surface is actually a very natural and necessary step that most successful brands will weather through the years. Coke started out as a cola company and today has expanded into all things beverage. American Express started out as a credit card company and has redefined itself as a travel companion.

Disney began as an animation studio and expanded into all things entertainment. Many in the industry thought Walt Disney had lost his mind when they saw him getting into the seemingly unrelated industry of amusement parks. Walt saw that the market for movie-house cartoons was dying. People were getting their entertainment in new ways. Walt didnt see himself as just an animator . He saw himself as an entertainer and skillfully guided his company to become the pre-eminent entertainment company in the world.

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Graeme Newell is a broadcast and web marketing specialist who serves as the president and founder of 602 communications. You can reach Graeme at gnewell@602communications.com.