We may be well into the digital content age, but with traditional cable networks -- or for that matter, any TV networks -- it now comes down to having one big hit show that moves the needle.
Joel Hyatt, executive vice chairman and co-founder of Current Media, said exactly this at a conference in New York, speaking of course in reference to his new hire, ex-MSNBCer Keith Olbermann.
The one-hit wonder statement, of course, really isn't about just one hit. For example, Hyatt said he wants to connect Olbermann everywhere: "We're going to take Keith Olbermann's brand, which you only know as a one-hour television show, and we're going to put his brand on every platform conceivable to man."
We've heard this all before: "stretching the cable programming soup." Surely, Olbermann is not on the same level, as say Oprah Winfrey. But the pattern is the same. Take a big-brand name and figure out ways to touch as many areas as possible. For Winfrey, it is an effort with her two-month old network, OWN: The Oprah Winfrey Network.
Perhaps to a lesser degree Martha Stewart has been doing that at Hallmark Channel. Fox News seemed to count on Bill O'Reilly in its early days -- though he was more of a developed talent, but not as well known before coming to the network. One thing is sure: big recognizable brand names have increased in big value these days -- especially as TV ratings continue to fractionalize.
The question is: will viewers continue to buy into this brand extension? The thinking has always been that in a world of DVRs and video-on-demand, viewers are moving towards watching individual video pieces -- programs, highlights, promotional clips -- and then moving on to something else.
Right now, you can probably think of many cable networks looking for the same bit of branding/programming juice. Increasingly, networks will need even more instant brand name programming recognition.
It's kind of like a big sports team hiring a major star.
The effort then is to see who follows that person onto that team -- or what stars can be developed. Fox News did that -- and those lessons were learned by MSNBC (with Olbermann and company) and, more recently, CNN.
Can Current join the big leagues -- and will cable viewers continue to buy into the same cable TV brand extension strategy in an increasingly disparate media world?