In Praise Of The Branded Network: I Want My TCM!
No self-respecting pay TV company would really come out in favor of a la carte programming at this time. But just by mentioning that French menu term, TWC was implicitly asking viewers to rate their loyalty to CBS as a brand. And I suspect that ratings champ CBS – and other broadcast networks – would, if put to the test, garner measurably lower viewer brand loyalty than many other channels whose programming makes up a cohesive franchise.
As a Time Warner customer, while I regularly watch two CBS programs (“The Good Wife” and “The Big Bang Theory,” if you must know), I could learn to live without the network if I really had to. But I couldn’t live without the default channels I turn on automatically -- which have become destination TV for me, places where I just hang out. I won’t always find something that I want to watch, but I always want to know what’s going on there.
It’s August, time for Turner Classic Movies’ annual “Summer Under The Stars” festival, which provides 24 hours’ worth of movies from a different actor each day (also the only time I get to make dumb jokes about “Doris Day Day”). I’ve already been introduced to a wonderful movie I’d never heard of before -- “Ruggles of Red Gap” -- on the day honoring Mary Boland, an actress whose screen presence (playing daffy society dames, perhaps most famously in “The Women”), but not name, I already knew.
That chance to discover less-well-known movie gems, and delve deeper into familiar classics, is a big part of the appeal of TCM. It’s also the only network whose promos keep me glued to the screen when the main program is over. See, there’s Orson Welles’ daughter discussing her father’s career, or Meryl Streep noting adorably that, as a young girl, she used to watch Bette Davis movies on TV “to take lessons… on how to scare the hell out of a man.”
Another of my default channels, Me-TV, follows TCM’s lead of curating older entertainment inventory -- sometimes inventively, with theme Sundays often pegged to a timely event. For example, during Black History Month, Me aired various old series guest-starring African-American actors. As with TCM, I enjoy watching Me’s promos -- often witty mash-ups of scenes from its shows, like Mary Tyler Moore talking to herself in her two different Me incarnations, Laura Petrie and Mary Richards. But I find the network’s commercials, targeted to “seniors,” unbearable. I do not enjoy hearing the words “funeral expenses” repeated every 15 minutes.
Bravo used to be my favorite channel after TCM, a guilty pleasure, like eating a pint of ice cream for dinner -- sweet, but sick-making. Lately I want something more nutritious, though I can still be sucked in by the weird fascination of, say, hate-watching “Princesses Long Island,” a show that made me understand the Italian uproar when “Jersey Shore” premiered. As a Jewish woman, I was horrified at the stereotypes “Princesses” flaunted.
With its “Bravolebrities” promoted nightly on the show “Watch What Happens Live,” Bravo, of course, couldn’t be more of a brand. But will the more targeted viewership of a network that’s clearly branded make a more targeted, maybe more desirable, ad buy than the mass viewership of a broadcast channel like CBS? That’s certainly an issue media buyers have been grappling with for years -- and the question of network brand loyalty recently raised by TWC may add another wrinkle to that debate.