MEDIA: FORUM; Can magazine titles make successful TV shows?

Masthead programming, where magazine titles are adapted to form television shows, will soon be with us. The ITC is revising its code and talks between magazines and prospective TV partners are well underway. What should the new ITC laws contain? And who will benefit most from the changes?

Masthead programming, where magazine titles are adapted to form

television shows, will soon be with us. The ITC is revising its code and

talks between magazines and prospective TV partners are well underway.

What should the new ITC laws contain? And who will benefit most from the

changes?



Hello! magazine is regarded as an ideal candidate, Good Housekeeping is

believed to be looking at it, mainstream women’s titles will be well to

the fore when the time comes and specialists and hobby titles are bound

to find some sort of niche. We’re talking about ‘masthead programming’

- taking magazines and developing them as television formats. The

practice is currently outlawed by the Independent Television Commission

but the rules should be relaxed this autumn and exploratory talks

between publishers and potential TV partners are already underway.

Hello! has many suitors and the National Magazine Company has been in

talks with Granada Sky Broadcasting, whose seven channels are due to go

on air at the beginning of October (Campaign, last week).



The BBC - not covered by the ITC rules - has several programme-magazine

tie-ups, including Good Food, the Clothes Show and Top Gear, so we know

it works, don’t we? Perhaps not. These are great examples of successful

programmes having magazine spin-offs. No-one’s really done it the other

way around before. If magazine formats are so good, why hasn’t ITV

nicked a few of the ideas already?



Then there’s the danger that magazines could sell themselves short.

Could tie-ups damage brand values which titles have spent decades

developing? Don’t some television channels need magazines more than

magazines need TV? What should the new ITC code contain? Should it now

be a free-for-all?



Yes, says Andy Hawkins, the executive sales director of Laser Satellite

and Cable Sales. ‘The market should be able to determine what is

commercially viable and it should be down to what the viewers can and

can’t cope with. They really don’t need nannying any more,’ he argues.



‘The current rules are full of absurdities. Media properties that are

free to the public can transfer to TV - like Kiss FM, which has a

section on Live TV. If you have a cover price, you can’t. That seems

arbitrary. And we’re restricted from even having journalists from

specialist magazines as regular broadcasters. Specialists have views

which the television audience should have the opportunity to see and

hear. Of course the rules should change - it’s obvious that we will want

to use the expertise of magazines.’



But isn’t there a danger not only that TV will benefit more than

magazines from tie-ups, but that they could actually prove damaging to

magazines?



‘Magazines have to be careful to make sure that they go for the sort of

TV tie-up that is right for their image, but then that’s the same for

all brand extensions. And there are enormous potential benefits for

magazines. It will introduce them to new audiences and currently they

don’t often have a marketing or promotional budget that allows them to

have an above-the-line presence on TV,’ Hawkins says.



Terry Mansfield, the managing director of NatMags, is delighted that the

ITC has decided to review its regulations, but he stresses that

magazines cannot be treated as a commodity like baked beans or washing

powder. ‘Magazines are intellectual properties, already used by

thousands of TV programmes as source material. It is vital that the new

regulations allow for the inclusion of a magazine’s name in the title of

a programme and that its content is reflected too. The ITC could limit

the number of references to the magazine to, say, two every half hour.’



Mansfield believes that TV-magazine partnerships will help to meet the

growing demand - caused by the continuing proliferation of new channels

- for quality programming. ‘By linking with successful magazine brands,

broadcasters can gain access to information and expertise which would

otherwise take many research hours and scarce research funds to obtain,’

he argues. ‘The challenge for publishers will be to ensure that the

brand values of their magazines are fully reflected by the broadcaster.

If done well, translating the medium to television should enhance and

strengthen the magazine.’



A change is certainly overdue, agrees Marco Rimini, the deputy managing

director of CIA Medianetwork. ‘It will work only if they manage to

create good TV rather than just bunging the magazine format on to the

screen,’ he asserts.



Rimini believes that the biggest winners will be smaller cable and

satellite stations, if they manage to hook high-profile magazines. He

says: ‘It will all depend on which is the bigger brand - the magazine or

the TV station. In most cases, it will probably be the magazine. The

smaller brand is always going to benefit more than the bigger brand. But

in a way, that question might become less relevant. These days people

tend to watch particular programmes rather than channels. The arrival of

masthead programming will underline that trend. For clients, though, it

could be a great opportunity to start doing cross-media deals.’



Colin Reeves-Smith, the business development director of IPC Magazines,

doesn’t think that there should be a total free-for-all: ‘There are some

rules and guidelines we would want to see, particularly to guarantee

against over-commercialism. We would like to see the same guidelines

that we have always had as editorial practice - advertisers should not

be able to influence editorial content. A TV programme, just like a

magazine, must be free either to praise or criticise a product.



‘On our part, we must be careful of the dangers of jumping at the first

opportunity that is presented to us. In other countries, there is not

exactly a great profit stream coming from masthead programmes back into

magazines but you do see advantages in terms of enhanced circulation.



‘We have to be careful that we don’t licence our brands to TV companies

with small audiences or no access to major channels. That would not be

appropriate to the big brands we have. In essence though, it would be a

brand extension like any other. Magazines are capable of sustaining a

number of product spin-offs and we have shown in the past that we are

good at managing brand extensions.’



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