Should TV And Advertising Be Businesses Without Rules?

by , Mar 28, 2012, 12:45 PM
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Television can be transforming -- but not for every programmer. Cable TV was always pegged to this "transformation" level, always set to be much more than just "television."

You know the HBO marketing line "It's not TV; It's HBO." That seems like a bold statement. But it should pertain to all cable TV -- at least for the money consumers pay. It doesn't.

There are exceptions: AMC was a small, nondescript movie channel, now transformed to a channel of award-winning and critically acclaimed shows, thanks in part to Charlie Collier, president of AMC Networks.

Speaking at the 4A's Transformation LA event, Collier said, "I'm not a transformation guru." Still, later on, he said of his network: "The business and the brand are transforming together."

Perhaps it's no surprise that AMC modeled itself after the you-know-what-pay-movie channel. "We used to look at HBO," said Collier. "We used to think, 'Wouldn't it be great to leverage a ‘Sopranos’ or ‘Sex in the City'?" But AMC didn't have anything like that. It had older films, like 1960s’ movie "Cool Hand Luke."  Not exactly top-of-mind programming.

What now drives AMC's programming strategy? Collier said the network looks at stuff that is "unexpected and uncompromising."  So "The Walking Dead" is nothing like "Mad Men," which is nothing like "The Killing."

"We don't want one show to look like another," he said. But he said that other cable networks, like HGTV, do just that. Collier wasn't dismissive of HGTV. Yet from a broader point of view, from cable's somewhat original revolutionary promise, is AMC truly different? Not yet.

Now AMC is starting its first big reality TV show -- about, what else, the real world of advertising, a look at what "Mad Men" might be like now.

"The Pitch" is about advertising agencies pitching against each other for business. One key message in a show trailer came from an advertising executive, seemingly echoing what viewers might want:  "This is a business without rules."

Yes. Bring on more advertising, TV shows (broadcast and cable) and digital content, without rules. Does that sound dangerous? Exactly.

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