E! Entertainment is expected to share its new branding,
which uses the tagline "Pop of Culture," and its plans to add scripted
programming to its lineup at its upfront presentation to media buyers April 30
in New York.
The network's new look -- aiming to be aspirational, fun,
classy and more advertiser-friendly -- will hit the air July 9. E!'s Website is
also being redone, with a new design that's flexible and interactive, featuring
a new "liquid" ad format that flows to be next to appropriate content.
E! was owned by Comcast when the cable company acquired
control of NBCUniversal. Following the acquisition, E! was assigned to NBCU
cable chief Bonnie Hammer, who tapped marketing chief Suzanne Kolb as
president. The network underwent the kind of "brand audit" that helped Hammer
turn USA into the top channel on cable under the "Characters Welcome" banner.
Kolb says the audit found strength in entertainment news,
live event coverage, reality and an ability to reach audiences over multiple
platforms. "We're coming off seven years of record-setting growth, and so we
know there's audience passion there," Kolb said. At the same time, she added,
"we didn't feel like we were completely fulfilling our mission as a network, which
to us is to inspire and entertain the pop culture fan in all of us."
The network attracts a young audience that advertisers like,
but E! wants it to grow. "The lowest-hanging fruit is to get those people to
watch more," Kolb said, adding that the network could grow its viewership by
young adult men. That could also help maintain its median age of 33.
The network will expand its definition of celebrity to
include the worlds of sports, politics and music, and will broaden
geographically by taking in famous folks from cities other than Los Angeles. E!
will offer more programming genres, including scripted series. Also in the
works is another topical show.
Last week, E! signed the Kardashian family for three more
years of Keeping Up With the Kardashians, but Kolb doesn't want to be dependent
on the ratings they bring in. "It would be irresponsible for us not to be
building other hits around them," she said. The moves have a financial upside.
E! had ad revenue of $253 million and generated cash flow of $218 million in
2011, according to SNL Kagan. "I think they may be trying to broaden their demo
and get their CPM up, make the network more attractive to a wider audience,"
said Kagan analyst Derek Baine. "They have a great brand name, and the NBCU
group is going to leverage that."
The new design of E!'s website will allow it to display more
content, especially video content.
"We've been doing quite well online already," says John
Najarian, executive VP and general manager for digital media and business
development at E!, pointing to 19 million unique visitors per month on the Web
and via mobile, plus 20 million followers on Facebook and Twitter. But "you
can't continue to grow unless you're constantly innovating and that's our
approach," he says.
E! Online is a blog-based site, but something different was necessary. "The
challenge is we have so much content. We cover all the world of pop culture. We
also have a television network that has a tremendous amount of daily and weekly
topical plus reality shows people are buzzing about," he said. "How do you
present all of that in a way that can feel dynamic and ever changing on a
What Najarian's team came up with a site that changes
depending on editorial decisions about content and the user's equipment.
Depending on the resolution of the users' screen, the page can be displayed in
three, four or five columns. It built a flexible content management system that
allows editorial staffers to decide where content goes and how many columns it
should occupy. The content could be a story, video or a photo gallery. Once those decisions are made, the other
content automatically reflows around the newest item.
For example, if the site is streaming a movie premiere or
covering a red carpet event live, a video player can occupy the entire top of
the screen. The new system also permits better dayparting, which means making
Chelsea Handler clips more accessible to fans before and after her show airs.
"You can't be the pulse of pop culture without feeling like
the site is alive and organic all the time," Najarian says. All that change
should encourage people to visit more often. "By being as dynamic as we want
this to feel, you're not just going to
come in once a day and check out what happened, you're going to want to know
what's happening all the time. Everybody is constantly connected, wants to know
the latest, wants to see the latest and they have so many tools to get there,"
The new design also creates new advertising opportunities,
which E! is calling liquid advertising.
"Because we're moving the content around, because we're resizing
it, because the screen resolution changes, the placements of the ad flow as
well," Najarian says. That means an ad that appears in a unit on the far right
of the page in the morning could be on the left by lunchtime. Advertisers can
sponsor a particular piece of content, and their ad moves with the content.
E! will begin pitching the site to advertisers during
Monday's TV network upfront and Tuesday at NBCU's Digital NewFront.
"We think it's something that will almost solve the problem
that has existed with display advertising," says Kolb. "We're a very video-heavy
site as well, so we sell video advertising as well as display advertising. But
obviously display advertising is a large piece of impressions that we have and
we want to make sure we're reinventing that in a way that works for all."