Spike Looks to Compete in General Entertainment
Scripted programming in development
By Jon Lafayette -- Broadcasting & Cable, 3/22/2013 4:58:54 PM
Plans to transition the network, which was down last year in ratings and ad revenues, have been discussed with media buyers and advertising clients as the upfront market approaches, according to Jeff Lucas, head of ad sales for Viacom's music and entertainment networks.
"Spike is a network that is transitioning, a majority of it, to more of a general entertainment network," he says. "This year we're announcing to the marketplace that we're developing scripted programming for Spike."
The goal is to compete directly with top-rated networks. "We're saying 'bring it on baby,'" Lucas says.
In addition to the scripted programming in development, Spike has six series that will be sold as part of the upfront that Lucas says will be "broader and more general in scope" than the shows already on the channel.
The possibility of changing the network's name is "something that we're closely watching," Lucas says. "As we transition from mostly reality to the scripted side, we're looking at that. It takes a lot to change the name of a network. If we don't have to change it, we won't. But if we do, we will. We're going to make it successful one way or the other."
Before becoming Spike TV in 2003, the network was briefly TNN, intended to be a general entertainment network. Prior to that, it was the country music brand The Nashville Network. In the past few years, Spike has been gradually changing its focus, from young men, to somewhat older men to general entertainment with a male filter but including women.
In 2012, Spike ranked 24th among ad-supported cable networks in total viewers. Viewership was down 10% from 2011 and far behind the top general entertainment networks -- USA, TNT, TBS, FX -- all of which were in the top 10 in both total viewers and adults 18 to 49.
Viacom's ad revenue growth has lagged the industry in the past few quarter, mainly due to lower ratings at Nickelodeon and MTV. But ad industry sources say the lack of a strong general entertainment network has kept Viacom from fully engaging advertisers in some categories.
Spike ranked 23rd among cable networks with $323 million in ad revenue in 2012, according to figures from SNL Kagan. That was down slightly from $330 million in 2011. By contrast, TNT's ad revenues in 2012 were $1.05 billion, second only to ESPN.
NBC recently announced a deal with Esquire magazine to turn its little-watched G4 channel into a male-oriented channel.
But Lucas says a balanced approach is best. "You want to appeal to the most people you can. You want to have programming that's inclusive of all groups," he says, pointing to History as a network that has both a large audience and one that is valuable because it reaches a large proportion of men.
For advertisers that do want to reach men, Spike has its Bellator mixed-martial arts franchise, which replaced UFC when UFC moved to Fox in 2011. Bellator is owned by Viacom, which could mean more opportunities for marketers. "There is no different between the league office and the telecast partner. We're the same thing."
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