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The Challenge of a Court TV Rebrand

Court TV executives got the cable industry talking last week when they announced that, within the year, their network will no longer be “Court TV.”

Aiming to target a psychographic they're calling Real Engagers, they plan to revamp daytime trial coverage, add nighttime entertainment shows, and take on a new name and look by Jan.1, 2008.

Court, which was acquired by Time Warner and folded into its Turner division last year, has repositioned itself several times before, most recently dividing its programming into trial coverage during the day and entertainment programming at night.

Although no one at the company is giving details, some have a good idea what the new brand will be. Executives will spend the months before this summer getting the requisite clearances for using it across various platforms, says Turner Entertainment Networks President Steve Koonin.

While he will say the target “real engagers” enjoy watching “real-life stories and true characters,” he maintains that the new brand isn't wholly about reality programming. “We're going nowhere near there. That's not even close to what we're doing,” he says, noting that the reincarnated Court can also program scripted series, so long as they're true stories.

In an age of Google's YouTube, News Corp.'s MyNetworkTV and MySpace, and Nickelodeon's ME:TV, might Court's new moniker have some sort of narcissistic focus of its own? “First person is a hugely important element of this because this is the 'me' era we're in,” says Koonin. “We feel this first person is a key element. And when you put those two together—first person and real-life engagement—we think we have something really unique and special, and it's much bigger than the promise of Court TV, which I think is limited in its position.”

Indeed, Court saw huge ratings gains with its action-packed primetime entertainment shows last year. Thanks partly to its “RED” or “Real. Exciting. Dramatic.” block, during February, Court's primetime audience in the key 18-49 demographic jumped 37%, to 506,000, year-to-year.

That's compared with the relatively small audience the network's daytime trial-based coverage commands: 296,000 viewers 18-49 that month.

Sources familiar with the network before its acquisition by Turner say Court's ad-sales staffers—who were laid off after the Turner buy—had long wanted a name change to reflect the saucier programming at night. But they didn't want to scare off advertisers with a name suggesting an environment full of blood and gore.

“The network was really hamstrung by the daytime programming as well as the attitude that could come across if they went full-scale crime,” says Rudy Gaskins, CEO/executive creative director of branding-services agency Push Creative, who worked on Court's rebrand around 2000. “It has been a struggle, and I don't know how much success they've really had overcoming this problem.”

Former Court CEO Henry Schleiff, who oversaw Court's marketing push in recent years and is now head of Hallmark Channel, declined comment.

In development

The network is developing several primetime reality shows on, among other things, police interrogations (The Room), con artists (The Real Hustle) and high-end security experts (Tiger Team). Also in development are quarterly specials from Court TV-owned Website the, such as The Dumbest Criminals in the World.

Daytime programming will be redone and lead into a 3-5 p.m. block of back-to-back talk shows hosted by Nancy Grace, whose Closing Arguments shrinks from two hours to one, and Star Jones. Trial coverage will move to the Web during the afternoon.

Koonin, who masterminded rebrands for Turner's TNT and TBS cable networks to focus on drama and comedy, respectively, says that Court's rebrand is an internal team effort (by Court TV General Manager Marc Juris and others), not by outside brand consultants.

The new brand—name, tagline, logo and on-air look—will be unveiled to advertisers this summer.