It is never as clear as when I am at the Television Critics Association meetings as to how much more competitive the business gets every year. I’ve been doing this long enough to remember when it was a handful of networks and a few cable channels available. Now, it is the networks, basic cable, premium cable, streaming services and other options that create the massive field.
It has become vital for a service providing programming to find a way to stand out in the crowd. Take AXS TV as an example.
The channel has been on the air since 2001 but was known as HDNet until the relaunch in 2012 when it took on the new name and identity. Gone was a service best known for high-definition programming and in was a program lineup that Jeff Cuban, chief operating officer and general manager of AXS, calls “rock and roll.”
That means the network offers programming like “Rock & Roll Road Trip,” where Sammy Hagar interviews some of the biggest names in music, or “Hoff the Record,” a comedy where David Hasselhoff plays a twisted version of himself. It is a channel of serious news with Dan Rather and battles with “Inside MMA.”
Cuban’s happy with the company’s current lineup. But it took some hits and misses to find the right mix. He admits a brief attempt to cater to millennials was not the direction to take.
“It was a short-lived experiment. I think we have over the duration since then, we have found who we are,” Cuban says. “It took some trial and error to figure it out. We are trying new things. We are the struggling, up-and-coming independent network and are finally getting our toe hold.”
The channel is in approximately 44 million homes. That’s small compared to the networks or major cable channels. But, in the heated battle for attention, AXS is winning its war to get attention. Cuban is certain that the rock-and-roll approach will help the channel to continue to grow and open up to a larger demographic of viewers.
If you aren’t familiar with AXS, Cuban suggests tuning in for the Sunday night lineup that includes performances by big name music acts.
At the same time, there are streaming services trying to create their own identities. In the case of a company like Hulu, that means blending classic television programs with original programming.
And these streaming services aren’t just surviving on leftover talent. Hulu has a project planned for President’s Day that is based on the book by Stephen King, “11.22.63.” It is being produced by J.J. Abrams, whose little feature film “The Force Awakens” makes him one of the top talents in show business.
Abrams says, “We feel incredibly lucky to be working with Hulu. They’ve been remarkable and incredibly collaborative and as excited about this as we were, and that really is why we ended up there. We knew we had something that was incredibly special. This was a book that I loved long before Stephen King reached out and asked if I’d be interested in getting involved to produce it. And so we did go out to a number of different places, had some offers. But Hulu’s enthusiasm was clear and it matched ours.”
That’s because of the need to stand out in a crowded TV world. It all comes down to finding ways to get attention, even if it means changing a channel’s name – ABC Family became Freeform earlier this week.
Tom Ascheim explains that the new name creates a sense that the channel is more than a TV network. The change is about finding a way to keep growing.
“Often when companies decide, at least in the television world, to change their name, they’re solving a big business problem. Ratings are down. Money stinks. They need to recruit an entirely new audience. We, thankfully, are suffering from none of these particular ills. We had a great year last year. It was the best year in our financial history,” Ascheim says. “So why mess with a good thing? Wise people have said to me more than three times. And here’s why: We, like any business, need to grow. And growth only comes from two places: You make your core customers happy, and you get new customers.”
The battle for viewers resulted in the change of The Military Channel to the American Heroes Channel. The goal was to create a television destination that captured the spirit of heroism that inspired people every day and bridges the gap between the lessons of the past and the lessons of today.
What the executives found out was that viewers wanted high-quality history programming that they could not find on other channels. They will have 36 hours of premiere history series and specials in just the first quarter of 2016 to fill that need.
It is all part of the battle for viewers, which grows every day.