Monday, 22 September 2008

Brand Equity through Aggregation [Brand Compatible Content]

Shows must share brand value commonalities with the aggregating network to better build brand equity.

There is nothing new here, really. The compatibility of brand attributes between programme and TV network has been a fundamental element since TV II. Animal Planet acquires and commissions shows about wild life, and not about how to pimp your ride. That is quite obvious.

Niche channels have an advantage. It is easier to focus brand efforts, as your brand knowledge (identity and awareness) is pretty much built on the kind of programming you air. Of course, it requires the right amount of placement and promotion, but still, it is a lot more “concrete” to brand a niche channel than a general entertainment channel. But you always have the Discovery Channel, which pushes the boundaries a little further, moving the brand focus away from its product, and doing something more “abstract”, more emotionally connected, more like a lovemark (I’ll discuss Lovemarks in further posts).

I’d risk to say that the bottom line is that the tightest is the match between the brand values of a programme and a TV Network, the harder it is for another network to appropriate their brand equity. I’ll exemplify this.

Dexter Promo on Showtime

Take Dexter, for example. A drama series about a pseudo-morally-driven serial killer who works for the Miami police department as a blood spatter analyst. The show has a lot of blood and violence, some sex, and skewed morals that make us suddenly realise we are rooting for a butcher to successfully get away with slaughter. Brilliant, isn’t it? I really enjoy the show, as I often get morally disturbed by it. But see, the thing with Dexter is that it is not the kind of show that could be associated with any network brand. Showtime, the American network which produces the show, surely can do it. Dexter is aired by Showtime, a premium subscription cable channel, which in America they can do pretty much what they want in terms of sexuality and violence. Not only that, the show is very innovative and edgy. From the opening titles to the way it manipulates the audience to sympathise with the lead character, Dexter is pure TV art. Nothing bad for a network that competes head to head with HBO. All these brand attributes of Dexter (innovation, edginess) are transferred to the Showtime brand. The same way The Sopranos did to HBO, as you can read in Rogers et al.'s book and in Cathy Johnson's paper. Other networks are joining the game, like Mad Men’s AMC, which recently launched a show with the same defying moral aspects as Dexter’s called Breaking Bad, a show about a 50 year old chemistry teacher who is diagnosed with lung cancer and decides to get control of his dull life by smoking pot and cooking crystal meth in order to leave a decent legacy for his soon-to-be-born second child. Genious, innit? However, is the end of family principles the future of TV plots as we know it? My girlfriend finds it too violent and too disturbing. I just don’t mind. For me, it is great TV. The only problem is that now I have to watch it solo on my iphone in the tube, instead of watching it on the bedroom TV set.

Breaking Bad Promo on AMC

Well, back again, programmes transfer brand equity to Networks, just like The Sopranos did to HBO, and Dexter did to Showtime, and Mad Men did to AMC. But the reverse is also true. I believe AMC transferred some brand equity to Breaking Bad, in a sense like “Oh, this is the new show from the same network as Mad Men, let’s check it out!”. At the end of the day, we are looking for shows and networks to exchange good equity in an old fashioned well-planned healthy brand orgy. :)

But let’s get back to the word appropriation. And this too is better understood when exemplified. Follow this trail: Dexter is produced and aired by Showtime Networks. Showtime is owned by the giant CBS Corporation. CBS is a media conglomerate who owns the terrestrial CBS channel. Dexter becomes a big hit in the US. CBS decides to add Dexter to their terrestrial schedule. Now, hold your horses right there. A violent show like Dexter on free-to-air American television? So CBS goes: “Ok, let’s schedule it late after the watershed and every time Dexter raises his scalpel we cut right there and remove the segment with the blade sinking in someone’s face. On top of that, every time Sergeant Doakes tells Dexter ‘I’m watching you motherfucker’ we change it to ‘I’m watching you motherlover’” (I swear to Dawkins CBS did that).

Dexter Promo on CBS: "He's got killer good looks…" - How desperate is this? Blimey!

Bottomline: CBS can get an audience, but they had to butcher the show, killing its most valuable aesthetic appeal, and surely not adding much to the CBS brand in the long run.

Now, take a look at the FX channel in Britain. FX is owned by Murdoch, and Murdoch does not own CBS, nor Showtime (“yet”. Who knows? The old man is hungry.) FX is not premium, nor subscription. It is cable. But hey, here is Britain. And FX pursues the same edginess in content as the American premium channels. Dexter is perfect for the FX’s schedule. So FX buys Dexter, and promotes it with excellency through a viral campaign that gives viewers the chills even before watching the show (Google up Dexter’s Hit List or wait for the post on the subject in this very blog).

So here is the brand equity appropriation I mentioned before. Dexter transfers to FX the same brand values developed by the synergy between Dexter and Showtime. Do you follow? This is different, compared to CBS. Dexter not only drives ratings, but also build brand equity to the FX brand in the long term.

Brand equity appropriation can reach highly creative levels. Mostly in the form of textual appropriation (check Caldwell’s book). I remember watching BBC 1's Breakfast News a few days ago where they showed a whole interview with part of the casting from Channel 4's new reality show The Family. There it is! BBC appropriating Channel 4's text. It may look subtle, but there is some brand equity transfer going on. Am I becoming brand paranoid?

Well, this post ends the series about Brand Equity through Aggregation. Next, I'll talk about building Brand Equity in TV III through Placement.

Have a good week.

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Brand Equity through Aggregation [Findable and Accessible Content]

One of the TV III’s most diffused characteristics is its quasi-infinite content inventory. Technically, every video or film ever made, after being properly digitised, could be available to the audiences [I said technically, not economically].

Abundance is a little bit of a paradox. It is wonderful when you have a movie in mind, and you can be a 100% sure that it is within your reach somewhere out there in the digital world. It is a liberating feeling, indeed. On the other hand, when you have no clue of what you want, too many options can become overwhelming. And when your head starts calculating the cost of opportunity for each option, your mind goes down a spiral of pros and cons, and just like that, the fun is gone. The act of choice becomes so exhausting that it wipes away all the psychological benefits that could derive from the perfect picking. Barry Schwartz talks about choice fatigue in his book “The Paradox of Choice”.

Cutting to the chase, if you are acquiring digital content for your TV channel, you want to make sure that this content comes properly tagged with all the information necessary for viewers to find the shows, as well as for the shows to find viewers.

The trick is done by this little thing called metadata, or in other words, data of data. Metadata carries all relevant information about a digital TV asset (e.g. a drama series episode), attaching to the digital file things like the name of the show, the synopsis, the casting, the genre, the resolution (e.g. HD), production details, so on and so forth.

However, metadata itself is not the GPS device of television content. It is basically the full address and a little more, but you still need google maps and a computer to find it. You need digital agents that make use of metadata to do the things you want. You can find a good application of metadata and agents on your television EPG (Electronic Programme Guide), or a much more advanced example on PVRs like TiVo or Verizon FiOS [both services not available in the UK. Here, we have to stick to Sky +, which is, as far as I know, not even close to the user experience offered by its American counterparts].

If you own a TiVo (and thanks to metadata) you can search content by different criteria: title, genre, actors, you name it. And if you allowed TiVo to observe your viewing behaviour, it can recommend and record shows that you are likely to enjoy (this is why I said before that, through metadata, content can also find users). Check the video below to learn more metadata-based features on the TiVo PVR [as I don’t want you to think I’m sponsored by TiVo, you can later also watch this video about the Verizon’s FiOS Programme Guide. The guy mentions a few things on usability, a theme I intend to cover sometime in the future. I suggest you to skip to 3:30, which talks about the search features].

So far, this covers the findability part. Regarding accessibility, if you think about it, it is not enough for people just to find content, they also need access to it. You can see it in 3 different ways, I suppose. One has to do with placement, and we will discuss it later. But pretty much, it is the AmazonUnbox feature of TiVo. You can FIND content through TiVo, but if it is not available in the schedule of any channel, you can have ACCESS to it through the AmazonUnbox on-demand service. Accessibility regards format. And it has to do with aggregation. When you buy content, you want to make sure it already comes in the proper formats for all distribution platforms you have planned. So people can have ACCESS to the right format in their favourite platform. The third possibility has to do with viewers with special ACCESSIBILITY needs. It includes simple things as close captions, but can get as complex as the automatic rearrangement of the interface to better suit impaired viewers’ needs.

I’ve just found out this book about Digital TV and Metadata that talks about the application areas for Digital TV personalisation. The authors divide digital TV personalisation into three areas:

Broadcast A/V content, which includes:
  • Searching and filtering available TV programmes;
  • Matching consumer profile to programmes (via available content metadata);
  • Matching consumer profile to content parts and delivering customised compilations (e.g. personalised news).

Value-added Content, which includes:
  • Content adaptation for consumer groups or individuals (e.g. delivering sponsored content to a specific consumer demographics)

Value-added Context, which includes:
  • User interface adaptation for consumer groups or individuals. (e.g adaptable user interface complexity for impaired user groups)

I don’t really believe that anyone is distributing or acquiring content taking all these aspects into consideration yet. But if a TV Channel wants to offer the best viewing experience to their audiences, and hence add value to its brand, these findability and accessibility attributes must be definitely sought after.

The next post will discuss brand compatibility of aggregated TV content. Stay tuned. :)

Thursday, 11 September 2008

Brand Equity through Aggregation [Unbundable Content]

If you haven't seen BBC3's The Wrong Door yet take a moment to get yourself acquainted with the show (if it's been geoblocked you can try it at the BBC channel on YouTube. Let me know if it's been geoblocked too).

In a nutshell, The Wrong Door is Monty Python on CGI steroids.

But apart from the funny sketches and the typical British humour, The Wrong Door is a perfect example of unbundable content of TV III. 

Just like CDs had their basic commercial unit reduced from albums to tracks, the structure of The Wrong Door allows the sales of segments, rather than programmes. The sketches work fine as stand-alone comedy segments, but also offer an extra diegetic comprehension when watched as a whole programme. Certain characters are pictured in different episodical segments within the show, constituting a storyline.

As the format repeats the characters and the situational themes across different show episodes, viewers are enticed to follow the new stories of these characters every week.

The clip above is from a sketch that portraits a girl who takes her new boyfriend Philip to meet her girlfriends. In other episodical segments, she takes Philip to meet her parents, and even to go bowling with another couple. That would be completely normal wasn't for a tiny detail: Philip is a Tyrannosaurus Rex.

From my point of view, The Wrong Door succeeds in five different fronts:
  • As a short stand alone segment, it is perfectly suitable for mobile platforms, where viewers usually snack content and can't necessarily rely on fast connections;
  • Different episodical segments within a programme, entice audiences to stick around for more, and in the meantime, they get acquainted with new characters and diegetic situations;
  • The repetition of characters throughout different weekly shows, entice users to come back for new stories;
  • The short stand alone format can be (and already has been) used as an instant promotional piece, requiring very little work to become a full on-air promo, saving time and money.
  • The segments, when unbundled from the show, have a viral nature, and serve as content snacks. They can be downloaded from mobiles, posted on blogs and social networks, sent to friends, etc. All these situations turn the segments into very effective promotional tools that drive audiences to the show aired on TV or VOD.
I'm not saying here that all content in TV III show be unbundable, as this would be the end of movies as we know it. But this format surely helps to raise brand awareness and drive eye-balls to the show. Not not mention making money out of mobile content.

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

Brand Equity through Aggregation [Textually Extendable Content]

The next posts will cover one by one all the attributes shown in the TV III Branding Schematics (see illustration in the previous post), starting with the attributes related to Aggregation.

Distribution is changing drastically in TV III. Non-linear platforms, such as video-on-demand, are growing stronger and becoming more diffused amongst costumers. The 360º acquisition of programme rights has become a typical issue in TV III. New acquisitions should include rights for all new platforms, and back catalogue rights should be also cleared for these new delivery systems.

Although the clearance of programme rights for different platforms is a crucial step, TV networks should go a little further in order to add more value to their brands.

The aggregation of Textually Extendable Content refers to the acquisition of programmes that can have its narrative (text) extended to other brand extensions. Whether it is a new fragment of the story contained in a hidden web video, like ABC Lost's Rachel Blake videos, or whether it is a video-game of the series that reveals secrets sealed in the TV series. For me, brand extension is anything that presents a touch point with the brand.

Actually, what I am trying to say is that networks should acquire rights that allow the extension of the narrative to any format capable of adding value to the brand. Of course, this is easier said than done, and there are a lot of implications to that. This is pretty much a franchise format, and any textual addition should abide to the rules of the original diegetic world. Moreover, this becomes one more element that distributors have to deal with when negotiating content. So apparently, this is much more suitable for networks that produce their own programming, such as Showtime and AMC, which have been coming up with great shows like Dexter and Mad Men. However, with good negotiation, networks that acquire programmes could also develop extended narratives, as long as it is created within the producers' rules.

But why should networks go through all this trouble to get rights for textually extendable content?

The extension of narrative throughout delivery platforms is the underpinning for new placement and promotional strategies in TV III. It is the basis for intra-textual flow (I will talk about this later), which is, to a limited extent, the solution for audience erosion in the multi-platform world.

Friday, 5 September 2008

TV III Branding

So this is how it looks like: TV III Branding.

I’ll let you fantasise a little about this beautiful schematics :), before I come back and finish this post.

Gotta go now.

Well, TV branding strategies are different in each television era, mostly because of their distinct market structures. For instance, in TV I, brand management was limited to basically differentiate a few broadcasters from each other (so here is TV I Branding), whilst in TV II, in a multi-channel environment, brand strategies not only aimed at differentiation, but also at attracting, retaining and keeping audiences returning to the channel (TV II Branding).

But in TV III, things get a lot more complicated. Now there is much more competition, including new platforms that easily disperse viewers’ attention from the traditional TV. On the other hand, these new platforms supply consumers with new entry points to the brand domain, and since many of these new platforms are owned by one same media conglomerate, things might get a lot smoother.

I believe, besides all these reasons, that it is the social and behavioural changes, as a consequence of all the technology and economic advances, the elements that best characterise TV III Branding strategies.

Technology presented viewers with more options, more control and more power. Viewers are better informed, better connected and less predictable. Viewers are overwhelmed with choice, and they don’t depend on top down information for knowledge of content, now they are a click away from each other, they share opinions, they compare experiences, and sometimes, they even negotiate with content creators.

The abundance of options gave viewers (or viewsers, in the words of Shelly Palmer) another perspective in the balance between audience and aggregator. The most contemporary authors of books on branding often say that the brand doesn’t belong to the company, but to the consumer. This couldn’t be more true in TV III. TV III Branding is about managing the expectations of the new audience, embracing their intense participation.

The diagram above shows sets of new attributes for each one of the three practical constituents of the TV brand. Each attribute specifies a relevant way of doing the job, that at the end of the day will contribute to add value to the channel or programme brand. We are talking about media management here, so it is very practical, no theoretical rubbish (of which probably you’ve seen too much already).

The next post starts with the process of building brand equity in TV III through aggregation. And I swear to Dawkins that I’ll try to bring some cool examples for you guys and girls. :)

PS: I’m off to watch All the President’s Men because I can’t stand to see Rob Lowe’s deep ocean blue eyes in that Orange advert that screens at the cinemas and not know how is the original of the remake he wants to produce. Personally, I’d like to strangle the Head of Marketing at Orange for burning my patience by showing that thing every single time I go to watch a movie. And I still couldn’t get that one with Snoopy Dog off my mind. Good frequency does not equal overexposure.

What is TV III?

I was supposed to talk about TV III Branding in this post, but before we go any further, I’d like to quickly comment on the TVIII terminology. The history of Television is divided in three periods, whose nomenclature varies depending on the author. Basically, the three eras differ in terms of distribution or availability of content, which of course, have a major impact on economic and social factors. The television eras are not mutually exclusive, as the periods overlap each other and continue to exist even after the start of a new era. This condition remains true as long as the requisites for a particular era don’t cease to exist.

This is getting too abstract, so I’m showing a table with different terms to define each era, by different authors.

I chose to use Rogers et al. terms, because they are rather neutral. They don’t refer to any specific sector or technology within the eras. I believe this avoids confusion, as Broadcasters, continue to exist in the Cable Era, as well as Cable Operators are still active in the Digital Era. The same applies to Scarcity in the Age of Availability, or availability in the Age of Plenty.

Having said that, it is important to understand the characteristics of TV III, because they directly affect the way television brands are managed. I really wanted to keep it short, but here we go…

TV III is characterised by:

  • The end of the distribution bottleneck due to new digital distribution technologies (eg. digital TV, the internet, etc.), lowering entry barriers, thus allowing new entrants and more competition;
  • The shift in the TV value chain from conduit to content. As distribution becomes more commodified everyday, programming gains momentum;
  • The market deregulation. New elements become excuses to implement rules that were not allowed in the past. Looser rules, new opportunities;
  • The horizontal consolidation of companies giving birth to giant media conglomerates;
  • The so-called convergence, but not from the technological point of view, but from Jenkin’s perception of it as a cultural shift, where viewers connect information from dispersed sources and share their findings and experiences with each other. Convergence happens within the brain.

These characteristics are all linked in a cause-and-consequence system that makes TV III a very favourable moment for branding strategies. Even with Umair Haque saying the opposite. The thing is that he is talking about TV II branding strategies in a TV III environment. I’ll elaborate more about this some other time.

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

The 3 Practical Constituents

I don't mean this to be a lecture, but in order to make any sense in my future posts I'm afraid I have to lay down some of the basics. This is how I see TV Branding: the cumulative efforts of three strategical activities in television, with the common goal of building equity to the TV brand. These activities are aggregation [acquisition or production of TV content], placement [a term that encompasses linear and non-linear scheduling], and promotion [I almost changed it to dialogue, or communication, but later I decided to leave it alone].

I call these activities the three practical constituents of the TV Brand, because they are the practical roles in a television business that contribute the most to the process of building brand equity to a channel or a programme. I came to this conclusion by establishing the direct relations between the components of the marketing mix and the elements in Eastman and Ferguson's Model of Programming. Of course, except for Pricing and Evaluation, because from my point of view, they are included in all the marketing mix components and in all the elements of programming, namely.

So basically,  the relation between the marketing mix and the elements of programming, and their equivalent activities looks like this:

To reinforce this idea, I've also matched the three practical constituents to Aaker's asset categories responsible for adding value to the brand equity.

There might be other situations where one of the three practical constituents can relate to a specific asset. But those are the ones I could figure out. If you have any other suggestions, please let me know.

Throughout the interviews I did with some industry professionals, I could notice two things:

1. The lack of consensus regarding the terms to describe aggregation, placement and promotion. In addition, some companies overlap these functions within departments, making hard to see the line dividing the tasks.
2. Directly or indirectly, most interviewees confirmed the fact that these activities are the most important ones in the process of adding value to TV brands.

The next post will show the TV III attributes related to each one of the practical constituents, starting with aggregation. By the way, TV III = digital era. I'll explain that too in the next post.

First Post

I've just finished my Masters dissertation on TV Branding, and I remember how hard it was to find blogs or other online sources that exclusively discussed the subject. And as I'm a TV brand enthusiast, I thought: why not carry on with an informal research, and hopefully exchange ideas and different points of view with other people?

Another thing is that I believe I have put together some interesting stuff that I'd like to share, as well as to be questioned about.

So feel free to contribute and criticise. Not necessarily in this order.


Will Prestes
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