My Network, but What Is It?

The name and logo for the new CW network may get reconsidered by this fall, but the My Network TV moniker should stick for Fox's new outlet on its former UPN stations. The similarity between My Network TV and News Corp.'s recent purchase of is too obvious to ignore, and Fox brass make no secret about the cross-promotional opportunities.

But first, it's up to Fox to define exactly what My Network TV means. Its execs say they will use the full promotional power of the Fox/News Corp. family of media assets to spread the message—once one emerges.

“Marketing and branding are huge for this. It will be one of our strongest selling points,” says Dennis Swanson, president of the Fox station group. But he adds Fox still doesn't have the full blueprint. “We are formulating the promotional plans now.”

Conventional wisdom is that a network brand is defined by its shows. But with just two hours of nationally supplied programming in its infant stage, that's not the case with My Network TV.

Fox execs doubt that the block will always consist of two telenovelas, as will be the case when it launches in the fall (see p. 12 for more on the development slate). But because the brand won't have much of an image to shed, says Magna Global Corporate Research Director Steve Sternberg, changing the direction of the programming later will not necessarily damage the brand.

“It doesn't matter what programming they start out with. It matters what they end up with,” he explains. “I don't think it makes a difference if they change in midstream at all.”

So programming aside, Swanson says promotion and marketing will be coordinated between the network and the stations, with the “My” theme offered to other programming on the stations, from news to local sports. For example, WWOR New York will be known as My9 New York.

While stations will not have to use a nationally mandated branding scheme, Swanson says they will have to contribute to the promotional and marketing effort in a very direct way.

“We want certain commitments financially and in terms of gross ratings points so that, when we launch Desire and Secrets, we know that the local station will promote it,” he says. “I can tell you, when I was at Viacom, there were stations that didn't promote the UPN network, and that wasn't right.”

But Fox says the network and its programming will be promoted strongly across several of the News Corp. platforms. One of the most obvious is MySpace, the youth-oriented online portal that could be used to stream episodes or set up Web communities to support the show. Some MySpace-driven programming on the network is not impossible.

Another asset My Network TV will leverage for promotion is DirecTV, controlled by News Corp. Although Swanson says Fox is not targeting carriage of My Network TV programming on the satellite provider, it will explore other cross-promotional opportunities, which could include the airing of one or a few episodes via the service.

“We'll have to talk to them and get things worked out,” Swanson says. “[DirecTV is] in a lot of American homes, and it's a chance to put our product into those homes.”

Swanson will leverage all Fox assets, from the broadcast network to cable networks, such as FX. It remains to be seen how keen those networks will be to promote a rival.