Nets Hum Innovative New TunesDespite tight budgets, popular songs remain big audio dynamite for marketers and programmers 6/17/2013 12:01:00 AM Eastern
The television business has come
a long way, musically speaking, since filmmaker Michael Mann scribbled
the phrase “MTV cops” on a napkin, planting
the seed that grew into Miami Vice.
Original programming is proliferating, with
emerging series routinely leveraging music to
establish a voice (think Girls or The Americans),
and of course singing competition shows have
become a virtual cottage industry. The iPodshuffling masses are often lured with precisely
chosen music cues, some of which deliberately
hark back to the three-network era.
This apparent boom has occurred despite
budgets for music being tighter than ever. Highend
deals remain the exceptions. With season five building toward a telling moment in Don’s
apartment, the producers of Mad Men reportedly
paid a healthy $250,000 for the Beatles’ “Tomorrow
Never Knows.” NBC, Warner Bros. TV and
Warner/Chappell created a synergistic deal in a
similar ballpark to put Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir”
into an episode of Revolution last November.
Most transactions by programmers or marketers
test the balance of power between the
music and TV worlds, resulting in deals of a few
thousand dollars apiece. In certain cases, they
are even barter deals where no cash changes
hands. Good, recognizable (or just plain cool)
music can be expensive. But on the other hand,
networks can provide bands with unmatched
exposure, especially given how many platforms
and times the message gets out.
“There are a lot of reasons for publishers to
be optimistic,” said Richard Conlon, a senior
VP at BMI. “There have been declines in some
areas but a lot of growth to offset it, especially
with mobile consumption increasing.”
Sync or Swim
When the industry talks music for television
(as many execs will during Promax BDA,
which runs June 18-20 in Los Angeles) they
generally are referring to “sync” licensing, or
the securing of rights to pre-existing recordings
for programming or promotions. TV represents
a large chunk of the roughly $350 million
per year paid for sync licenses worldwide,
a number that has grown by single digits in
recent years even as overall music sales have
kept sliding. All rights tend to be included up
front, meaning the fees apply to streaming, TV
Everywhere or time-shifted instances.
Labels are certainly thankful for this new
revenue source, but even more so publishers
including BMI, Sony ATV and Warner/Chappell.
Publishing rights are fiercely guarded,
and dustups with artists are common. Warner/
Chappell famously owns and enforces the
copyright to “Happy Birthday to You,” which
means its appearances onscreen are rare.
“When record sales started to falter, labels
and publishers started looking to TV as a way to
keep revenue coming in,” says Alicen Schneider,
VP of music creative services for NBCUniversal.
“That often puts us in a priority position to learn
about popular music as it is coming to market.
We will get tracks three or four months out from
release, even before radio has them.”
Domo Arigato, Mr. Promo
A major area of activity for TV music licensing
is promotion, especially by broadcast networks
that are increasingly eager to break new hits.
“You’ll hear Katy Perry or Bruno Mars or
whoever is popular when networks are trying
to get attention around a new show,” Schneider
says. The Zeppelin deal for Revolution extended
to promotion, allowing NBC to marry the
iconic band—whose catalog is tightly managed
(Zep tunes are kept off streaming sites and are
hardly ever licensed for commercial use)—to an
emerging-priority show with early traction.
A downside risk of mass recognition, however,
is the homogeneity it tends to breed. “If you go
to the broadcast upfronts, you hear the same 20
songs the whole week,” says one cable marketer.
Stephen A. Arnold, whose eponymous company
has become a mainstay with dozens of
TV network clients by emphasizing original
composition over licensing, agrees. Promoters
see licensing hit songs “as a quick way to build
musical equity, by coat-tailing onto an existing
song,” Arnold says. “Our view is that often the
common viewer gets brand confusion as a result.
Which product does the song represent? It can
be hard to tell after multiple sync licenses.”
As a niche cable network, IFC can’t spend
with the big boys, but its comedy-focused
brand aligns extremely well with the music world. Shows like Portlandia (which costars
Carrie Brownstein, a guitarist with the powerpop
band Sleater-Kinney), Maron and Comedy
Bang! Bang! have music in their DNA, and the
network often leverages festivals such as South
by Southwest and Bonnaroo as promo stops.
“Music for us has always been a signifier,”
says Blake Callaway, IFC senior VP of marketing.
“Artists will seek us out because they
recognize and value our brand.”
On-air, the network is thrifty but able to
spend, shelling out a “low-five-figure” sum for
a two-month license to the 1980 J. Geils Band
track “Come Back” to plug the return of Comedy
Bang! Bang! In another instance, having determined
that Tiffany’s “I Think We’re Alone Now”
would strike the ideal chord, the network turned
to a junior staffer, who recorded a karaoke-style
cover of the song. The resulting licensing fee: $0.
Resourcefulness is especially important in the
digital video world. Case in point: Vice Media, a
rising force in traditional media with new series
on HBO and CNN. The commingling of music
and video images has been at the core of Vice’s
strategy since it began as a Montreal-based
print magazine in 1994. After the Web explosion
took hold in the late ’90s, the company
cultivated an ultra-loyal online community. It
recently launched a music site called Noisey,
home to longform, unscripted content revolving
around bands, brands and lifestyle topics.
Filmmaker Craig Teper (Vidal Sassoon the
Movie) developed and shot a 30-minute film
for Noisey about the intersection of hair, fashion
The editorial staff at Noisey helped pick bands
for Teper to capture. Clearances were handled by
Vice, which had brought in a sponsor, hair-care
brand Garnier Fructis. When the film premiered
online this spring, the Vice faithful, more than
willing to digest such branded content, pushed it
to 1 million views in less than two weeks.
Unlike with most traditional projects, the
partnership meant “we had access to pretty
much every track or piece of footage we needed,”