Networks Play the Reinvention Game

The reinvention of niche cable networks looking to better position themselves in a crowded and competitive marketplace has been commonplace over the past few years.

At last week’s Television Critics Association press tour, three familiar cable-network brands joined the reinvention movement by announcing sweeping changes in their operating strategies to meet the demands of a new television world.

National Geographic Channel promised that its on-air programming will not look the same one year from now as it seeks to take the brand to the next level within the entertainment arena.

Much bigger premium series, specials and documentaries featuring big-name talent will be the new face of Nat Geo, CEO Courteney Monroe said. The goal is to get to the same level as other entertainment-based networks without losing the value and appeal of the overall National Geographic brand.

Top-echelon networks TNT and TBS will go through a “full reinvention” over the next three years, TBS and TNT president and Turner Entertainment chief creative officer Kevin Reilly said at TCA. By adding quality original content, improving the consumer viewing experience, creating a new business paradigm for the networks that will include limiting the ad load in original shows, and investing in overall growth, Reilly said he hopes to change Turner’s struggling ratings fortunes.

ABC Family will go one step further. Starting later this month, it will abandon it’s 15-year moniker for a new one, Freeform. The network hopes the name will better reflect its mandate to reach young millennials with its drama and comedy programming.

The common denominator with all the networks is a decline in primetime ratings in 2015 compared with the previous year, with TNT and ABC Family suffering double-digit dips. The networks find themselves playing the reinvention game amid a shifting television landscape that is chasing viewers not chained to the small tube for their viewing options.

R. Thomas Umstead

R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.