MEDIA SPOTLIGHT ON: MASTHEAD TV - Publishers wise up to the full price of masthead television. Translating a print brand on to TV is no easy matter, as Alasdair Reid discovers

By ALASDAIR REID, campaignlive.co.uk, Friday, 28 August 1998 12:00AM

Mainstream, grown-up masthead programming had better be worth the wait. This has been a slow train coming, thanks largely to some characteristic dithering and hand-wringing at the Independent Television Commission.

Mainstream, grown-up masthead programming had better be worth the

wait. This has been a slow train coming, thanks largely to some

characteristic dithering and hand-wringing at the Independent Television

Commission.



Back at the end of July, the ITC gave clearance for magazines to produce

television versions of themselves on terrestrial channels. This, the

green light that everyone was supposedly waiting for, was clearly going

to lead to a stampede.



It hasn’t happened. True, there were a couple of announcements last week

- but they were hardly major earthquakes. The first one involves the

style magazine, Dazed & Confused. It will be associated with one of the

programmes in the new Channel 4 Renegade.TV series, which will almost

achieve masthead status with Renegade.TV Gets Dazed. The second involves

a pilot show being produced for IPC’s Marie Claire, which hopes to be

one of the first to back a major terrestrial masthead show. IPC is also

looking at the potential for other titles in the women’s and TV weeklies

market.



Well, yes. But isn’t everyone looking at the potential of just about

every title they own? And haven’t they been doing so for years,

confident that the ITC tide would turn?



During the last week or so there have been murmurings of disquiet over

on the programme production side of the fence. Some commissioners and

schedulers will tell you that publishers are still unable to decide

whether masthead shows are meant to be brand extensions, promotional

devices or wholly new ventures. And they, the publishers, are starting

to realise, rather late in the day, that translating the heart and soul

of a print brand on to the small screen is no easy matter. Publishers

have at last woken up to the fact that they get little primary benefit

(ie cashflow) if it’s a success and all of the bad karma if it

isn’t.



In short, they are getting cold feet. It’s OK to mess about with this on

an obscure part of the schedule of an obscure satellite television

channel when no-one’s watching; but get it wrong on ITV mid-morning and

you’ll be picking up the pieces for years to come. To maintain the brand

values of a quality magazine will take a substantial production budget;

but to justify that budget the programme would have to command a decent

place in the schedules and pull in a hefty audience. Squaring that

circle is proving difficult.



One publisher that has experimented with masthead programming on

satellite is the National Magazine Company - its newest and oldest

titles, Zest and Good Housekeeping, have been on GranadaSky’s Breeze

channel. Some press buyers say that the experiment has been dubious at

best.



Terry Mansfield, NatMags’ managing director, says: ’We would never allow

our brands to be involved in something that would be embarrassing. There

is evidence from other markets that people are interested in good

masthead programming and the sale of magazines involved goes up while

the programme is on.’



NatMags is in a privileged position. It may be able to leverage the

international economies of scale commanded by its parent, the Hearst

Corporation, which also just happens to be a major owner of TV stations

in the US as well as a big programme producer, with stakes in the ESBN

and Arts and Entertainment channels.



Some observers remain sceptical about the basic economics on a domestic

scale. Tess Alps, the executive chairman of Drum PHD, states: ’I think

you have to look on it, in the short-term, as a brand promotion

exercise.



If you have two competitive, roughly equivalent magazines and one has a

TV show, as long as it looks good, the show will give it an edge. But I

think that the occasions on which it all goes ’ping’ and everything

falls into place will be few and far between.’



This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk

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