Viacom's male-oriented Spike TV is looking to compete
directly with the top rated general-entertainment cable networks like TNT, TBS,
USA and FX, and has begun developing scripted programming.
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
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
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
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."