Broadcasters finally adopting marketing techniques in channel rebranding

LONDON - Five and UKTV's overhauls reflect a grasp of the edge that a strong brand can impart.

The addition of the letter 'A' to Five US, presumably to emphasise the origin of its content to anyone too stupid to hitherto have realised it, might not sound dramatic. However, it does provide further evidence of how media marketers are finally adopting techniques that are already commonplace in other sectors. 

The renaming follows the rebrand of its sister channel Five Life as Fiver last year. It also coincides with UKTV's latest relaunch and rebrand of one of its TV channels - UKTV People becomes Blighty later this month, following UKTV Documentary's reincarnation as Eden. This will mark the halfway point in the wholesale renaming of UKTV's channel portfolio, and although Five US' change is, to put it mildly, less dramatic, it is still part of the trend toward creating multimedia brands that engage with consumers.

'There's a branding arms race going on at the moment as TV companies become more marketing savvy', says Rufus Radcliffe, head of network marketing at Channel 4. 'In a market as competitive as TV we have realised that it is only strong, meaningful brands that will survive in the long run.'


Defence and differentiation

This realisation has been a painfully long time coming. The growth of TV channels means that broadcasters, particularly those that have stations with relatively small audiences, must defend audience share and achieve a level of differentiation. However, it is also true that TV companies are now seeing their stations as platforms and brands rather than as linear broadcast channels. 

Tom Lucas, head of marketing at UKTV, acknowledges this. 'Before, our channels were bland TV descriptors, but they now all have an idea at their core that we can stretch,' he says.

This begs the question as to why it has taken so long to apply this thinking. Dan Bobby, managing director of branding agency Dave, which worked on the branding of Fiver, believes that it is because programmers and schedulers have held the whip-hand. 'Traditionally, TV companies have culturally been content-led and thought that if we build it, they will come,' he says. 'It is only recently that some have begun to see their channels as platforms and realised that they need to build a relationship with their customers.'

UKTV channel Dave, formerly known as UKTV G2, is held up as the text-book example of a successful channel rebrand. According to Lucas, the idea of the 'blokey, matey' name and 'home of witty banter' strapline came from audience segmentation which deduced that the content and profile of the audience would appeal to men normally to be found in the pub, but who, due to other commitments, were now unable to be there. Dave, therefore, would be their substitute pub friend.

Andy Bryant, director of creative at Red Bee Media, adds: 'An identity is critically important to the whole viewer experience of a channel. It is the "glue" that holds a channel together, guides viewers to content they value, keeps people watching and reinforces an understanding of the channel's personality. A well-crafted channel identity can make a massive difference to audience figures and advertising revenue.'

Lucas points out that the name changes also offer the broadcaster potential to move the brands into non-broadcast areas. 'We could imagine an Eden shop, where you could book holidays. It gives us the opportunity to look at new commercial partnerships,' he says.

For this to work, however, the name also has to resonate with audiences, a lesson that Times of India Group might now be learning; its Absolute Radio station, which was rebranded from Virgin in September, has posted a 20% fall in its audience since the switch.

As Radcliffe argues, there is no point rebranding simply for rebranding's sake. 'The channel has to have content worth shouting about,' he says. Content, it would seem then, remains king. 


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