Personality-Driven 'Networks': It's All In the Definition

Does one name and one brand always equal one "network"? Sounds like a lot for one person to handle.

You might have put Oprah Winfrey, Martha Stewart and Keith Olbermann into this field -- considering recent TV business moves.

Now there's the possibility of Glenn Beck headed into the same area with talk about him fronting his own "network." Really? What kind of network? A full-fledged cable network? Oh, you mean an Internet network! That's something different -- for now, anyway.

Let's not get ahead of ourselves. Some of these brands/personalities are on vastly different levels -- especially Oprah Winfrey. Even her recently launched effort might be a tough chore. OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network started up three months ago and the jury is still well out -- so far out that is members are probably playing a round of golf right now.

A year ago Martha Stewart moved into this area -- partially -- with Hallmark Channel. In a recent earnings call, Hallmark noted some instant uplift because of the addition of Stewart and a block of daytime shows. But Hallmark didn't give away the whole store -- er, network -- when Stewart came calling. That was a prudent approach.



TV news pundit/observer Keith Olbermann looks to put his own stamp on stuff with his forthcoming move to the still-fledging channel Current. This will be at a different scale as well, as Current isn't destined to be a competitor with the likes of Fox News, CNN or Olbermann's former residence MSNBC.

Now Fox News' Beck might be looking for similar pastures when his contract ends this December.

To get a better sense of the field, you might look at the raw numbers for any proposed personality-driven network.

At best Beck pulls in around 1 million average viewers a night on Fox News. Olbermann was at a lesser level on MSNBC. Stewart's last numbers in broadcast syndication may have been a bit better than either Beck's or Olbermann's -- perhaps in the 2 million viewer range.

Of course, Winfrey has been on a whole another level. Currently her syndicated show gets around 7 million viewers -- and the ratings had been even higher years ago. She also pulls in other consumers through outlets like her magazine.

We know the drill: micro-niche networks -- on broadband or traditional cable -- need advertisers paying hefty premium CPMs (cost per thousands) for success.

If that model doesn't work, it only make senses that some would choose to have real fervent fans pay directly for their content. Beck could go more in this direction -- like Howard Stern has done with satellite radio.

Future personality- driven branded-networks -- whether digitally distributed on traditional cable or broadband -- seem destined for smaller, but more valuable, platforms. There's nothing wrong with that.

You might want to call it a "network" -- which brings up many grandiose associations. Right now, though, that word has many meanings.

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