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Editorial: Brand Recognition

In broadcast network television, there is an aged argument about whether a network should have a brand, or whether its shows themselves make up the brand. In cable television, conventional wisdom says there is little or no debate.

Even the broadest of cable networks have aligned their stars under one brand. When you turn on a successful cable outlet like USA, FX, Bravo or TNT, you basically know what you are going to get at any given time.

It is with this understanding that two programming acquisitions stood out so glaringly in the past week: SyFy grabbing professional wrestling and TBS snagging a new late-night host. And we highlight the two moves for very different reasons.

The TBS brand is about comedy, and in enlisting Conan O’Brien, the network has snatched up one of the better comedic minds in the business. There is no need for explanation about why this moves fits into the TBS brand and why the network should be lauded for making this happen, whether or not it turns out to be a cash cow.

On the other end of the spectrum was SyFy’s move to acquire the rights to World Wrestling Entertainment’s Smackdown program, a show that has jumped from UPN to The CW to MyNetwork and now to the NBC Universal cable network. For a network that has built great buzz around wonderful, identityenhancing programming like the critically adored Battlestar Galactica and its strong follow-up Caprica, this is very simply a head-scratcher from a branding perspective.

By no means of the imagination does Smackdown fit the SyFy brand, no matter how clever the spin. The Smackdown card has been played by its last couple of homes in an attempt to grab the one thing it delivers every week: eyeballs. But The CW learned that was a rented audience, especially for its brand.

SyFy has been on a roll of late from a buzz perspective, shrugging off some initial shots over its renaming to continue to cement its image in NBCU’s impressive cable stable. That’s why this move was a bit disappointing.

Smackdown, along with TBS’s O’Brien move, also serves as a useful reminder as networks—broadcast and cable—unveil their new programming to advertisers. The bottom line is that brands do matter, especially in cable. Even in broadcast, networks like CBS have prospered once they went back to focusing on their core competency.

As clutter increases, customers need to know what to expect every time they come to your store, or you risk body-slamming your value proposition.