Are Copycats Good For Business?

Copycat! Can’t networks think up their own original ideas? Well, maybe not. But no worries.

Traditionally, many TV executives would say an original bit of TV content almost always prevails. For example, looking at “American Idol,” many have tried to copy the still-big Fox show – some failing, some succeeding. Until recently, nothing has come close.

Mark Burnett wasn’t successful a few years back in coming up with a CBS summer show “Rock Star” -- sort of an “Idol” wannabe  -- as an ongoing effort. But now, borrowing from a different kind of music competition format, he has succeeded with NBC’s “The Voice.”

There is more to come: An ABC singing competition show “Duets” will start this summer.

A&E Networks has had massive success over the past year with a number of reality shows on its mothership A&E channel and its fast-growing History channel.

In Wednesday’s upfront presentation Abbe Raven, president and chief executive officer, said: "We are creating genres on TV; we don't copy others….We don't want the 25th generation of pawn or storage shows like TLC, Discovery or TruTV."

Naming names! The gloves are off! But why not copy -- if it makes more money?

Hey, remember when the A&E network was truly about “arts” programming -- you know, stuff like opera, ballet, classical music and, of course, all those World War II documentaries? Network programmers will tell you that type of programming doesn’t get big ratings and therefore big advertising budgets.

Yes, A&E is a big success story because it found a way to change horses in midstream. For many, A&E went from high-brow to low-brow -- and many will point out that current History shows like "Pawn Stars" and "Swamp People" also make this point.

A&E didn’t invent t reality TV shows about following around average Americans, mingling their seemingly unglamorous business and personal lives. Discovery’s  “American Chopper” started in 2003 and “Deadliest Catch” in 2005. You might consider MTV’s “The Real World,” which debuted in 1992, as the start of modern reality TV.

Even then, it isn’t wrong for other networks to copy A&E or each other. For many, this is the foundation of TV programming. You have scripted crime, legal or medical drama in numerous variations.

For marketers, “copycat” shows can have benefits. Pepsi, General Motors and Verizon might tell you this about “The X Factor.” Those companies compete with the likes of,  respectively, Coca-Cola, Ford Motor, and AT&T which have marketing positions in “American Idol.”

And if viewers, not just marketers, are interested in more singing competition shows, they should get what they want -- maybe even what they need.

 

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