The other day I wrote a piece about the failing and flailing Oprah Winfrey Network's cancelling the Rosie Show and how people were asking "What went wrong?" when they should have been asking "What could possibly go right?" on the day Oprah pitched the idea. The piece drew this comment from regular reader Kit who said:
It doesn't help that a quick look at the website shows that everything OWN shows is a cross between Lifetime and TLC.
That little comment got me thinking, specifically thinking about what it takes to create a successful cable channel. Because if all you're offering can be found elsewhere, then it's going to be hard to get off the ground.
So let's have a little thought experiment. Imagine that you have inherited a company that owns a nice chunk of cable bandwidth, and the money to stock it with programming. The question is "Now what?"
1. IDENTIFY AN AUDIENCE: First you need to figure out what kind of audience do you want, and how you can go beyond them. Entertainment has become balkanized on a level never seen before. The concept of being all things to all people when it comes to entertainment is dead and gone.
However, you have to find an audience that isn't already being serviced by other channels. As Kit said OWN's trying to peel their target audience, middle and upper class Caucasian women, off of Lifetime, TLC, and half a dozen other channels that target the female market and are more established than OWN.
What a new channel needs to find is an audience that is sizable enough to be commercially viable, but one that hasn't been serviced yet.
Once you've figured that out you can do step...
2. ESTABLISH A BRAND: Now the temptation is to go all Oprah and name the channel after yourself, but remember these little facts of life:
A) It will look like a massive ego trip instead of a source of entertainment and enlightenment.
B) All programming must reflect upon you, the person the channel was named after, in a positive way. That extremely limits what you can air. In television, limitations are bad.
So what kind of brand should you go for?
Since you can't be everything to everyone you need a brand that:
A) Appeals to your target audience.
B) Has the potential to appeal beyond your target audience. Remember OWN, it's targeting middle to upper class white women, and offers literally nothing of any interest to anyone else. That's one of its biggest problems.
C) Defines the identity of your channel, but does define specific programs.
This is because if you're going to survive you need to--
3. PRESENT A WIDE VARIETY OF PROGRAMMING: As I said before, limitations are bad. You need to be able to able to use your brand as a selling point, but you can't let it limit you.
One temptation is to buy a package of reruns and movies that fit your niche market and just letting them run over and over until the tape wears out. But it's not as great an idea as it sounds.
Yes, reruns are cheaper than making new shows, and I'm not saying that you're theoretical channel shouldn't use them. What I am saying is, don't over-use them. Because if you flog certain shows to death, guess what happens, they die. The audience gets bored with them and flips the channel to see what else is on. Pace yourself, bring in shows that fit your niche, but can't be found anywhere else, to spread the love around.
Turner Classic Movies is a good example. Their niche is old movies from Hollywood's Golden Age and beyond, but they keep a wide variety of them playing. Classics lay beside the less than classic, there are no limitations when it comes to genre and style, and even some original special programming about the movies they show.
They also don't flog any single film to the point where the audience gets sick to death of it. Too many "movie channels," especially here in Canada, run only a small number of films so many times you can set your watch by them. "Oh, they're showing that movie again, it must be the second Tuesday of the month."
Your channel can't be a dumping ground for your parent company's leftovers. That's why anyone starting a channel must have the infrastructure and resources to not only buy content, but to produce their own.
Then, you might be able to set up a channel worth watching.