A market study in the era of Peak TV

The winners and losers of Peak TV, and what Apple TV can do about it

We are living in the world of Peak TV, a term coined by FX President John Landgraf a few years ago – and he was right in many ways. We are living in an unprecedented era in which the TV options are more varied, more accessible, better overall and just plain more.

In 2015, there were a whopping 409 original scripted series, which is double what was produced six years ago and is now a record. 2016 promises to top that.

Landgraf coined that term because he believes the industry can’t sustain that kind of production. There are only so many eyes watching screens so how can more than 400 shows exist and networks continue to succeed?

For the first time, networks are taking on the challenges of Peak TV by viewing themselves as brands rather than simply deliverers of content. If you’re just a collection of shows without a guiding principle then you won’t succeed. That’s true in television and it’s true in any business.

How do networks figure out their brand? How does it affect which shows a network airs? And how can brand aid in the battle against (or co-exist with) the streaming giants of Netflix, Amazon and Hulu?

With most of us waiting breathlessly for a groundbreaking Apple TV to fix this problem, what are the networks doing now and what should Apple TV look like? What is the future of Peak TV?

The streaming networks changed everything

Let’s start answering those questions by addressing the elephant in the room: Streaming networks. They have significantly changed the landscape because it took the power from the networks and gave it to viewers. No longer would consumers be beholden to what the networks offered and when they could see shows.

The viewer emerged as the one in control.

Netflix changed the way we watch TV.

Consumer control is now the way of the world. The days of being told that you could only watch a limited offering at a certain time are gone. That is the single biggest reason why the streaming networks have succeeded.

Sure, their offerings have often been stellar. But that’s only a small part of it. Netflix, which started as a mail order DVD rental service, didn’t really take off until it jumped into streaming with content that was early seasons of current and past shows from other networks.

You might even remember the outcry when founder Reed Hastings planned to split the two sides of the Netflix business into two different brands, causing fears among Netflix customers that their subscriptions were going to double. Hastings backed off.

The success of Netflix was in giving customers control, thus positioning TV networks as out of touch and even arrogant. The idea that you could only watch what you wanted under somebody else’s rules created images of TV execs sitting in their offices and smoking cigars like Mr. Potter in It’s a Wonderful Life.

Netflix also structured its services as subscription based instead of on a pay-per-view basis. I’ve always thought that one of the reasons Apple has struggled with its online services is because it is not subscription-based. In music, Pandora and Spotify have overtaken the industry because they’re subscription based. When Apple finally released a subscription-based Apple Music, it was too late. (That and other problems.)

Subscriptions add the illusion of control because, subconsciously, the viewer (and listener) believes they are watching (and listening) for free. When you charge on an individual basis – like what Louis CK did recently with his critically acclaimed series Horace & Pete – many commentators were outraged that the comic would charge per episode. How dare he?

The advantages of being a cable network

Before we go any further, let’s put this out front. We’re not going to examine the broadcast TV networks: NBC, CBS, ABC and FOX. Those networks still air shows that get high ratings and bring in tons of money even if their ratio of failure is enormous. In fact, they are the ones hurting the most from Peak TV.

We’re more interested in the networks that have upped their sophistication, matching the tastes of the television watching public and critical landscape. Let’s focus on the cable networks.

Within them there are subsets. There are the prestige networks like FX and AMC (for my money, the two best networks on TV). Then there are the niche players, ranging from a powerhouse like ESPN to The Food Network, Bravo and Nickelodeon. We’re not going to get much into the niche networks but just note: They should not be ignored. HGTV’s Fixer Upper, for example, is a ratings juggernaut.

A third subset is the premium channels like HBO and Showtime, which have a different delivery and payment system than the rest.

What are the advantages to each? For FX and AMC, they have each created a prestige brand based on the success of its shows. Breaking Bad and Mad Men made AMC. The Shield provided liftoff for FX.

Peak TV
Two shows that lifted the AMC brand.

Both networks then became known for high-level, gritty programming that led for FX to roll out Justified, The Americans, Fargo and The People vs. OJ Simpson. All are terrific.

AMC had original programming before the double whammy of Mad Men (July 2007) and Breaking Bad (January 2008) gave it the identity it has now.

What’s interesting about each is that they both started as niche programmers. AMC was the place for cheesy moves from the 70s and 80s. AMC, after all, stands for American Movie Classics. (Although its definition of classic was different than mine.) FX was the place for special effects-laden action movies that had completed their theater and premium channel runs. (The name FX was actually supposed to mean FOX +, of a sort. But the movies they aired suggested otherwise.)

Therefore, each had to overcome pre-conceived notions about themselves.

To do that, each rebranded itself with an actual meaning. AMC rebranded under the theme of “Story Matters Here,” which immediately set it apart from both its past history and other networks. (The less said about its current theme, “Something More,” the better.)

FX added the theme of “There is No Box” (meaning, think outside the box). Soon, the programming each offered fulfilled their promises – that they were different and better.

Could they work as a streaming service? Well, each has a streaming app today and they are two networks that most rely on so-called second-day ratings, meaning viewership measured by DVR recordings, cable on demand and streaming from their apps. Sure, it could work as a streaming service.

Peak TVBut part of the advantage of being on a cable (or satellite) system is increased awareness and brand recognition. You have the ability to promote your new shows during commercial breaks of your current ones. While cutting the chord is becoming increasingly popular, only about one in seven Americans have actually done it.

There’s another advantage that needs to be addressed. The Internet, specifically, the online press. The critical TV landscape changed when some sites, like the now defunct Television Without Pity, began recapping shows that aired the night before. Those recaps started out as funny jibes (the recaps of Survivor on TWP were freakin’ hilarious) but have now become serious journalism.

Any website that covers TV in some fashion now has re-cappers – and that includes The New York Times.

While those re-cappers do write about the streaming shows from Netflix, Hulu and Amazon (AV Club is probably the most robust of them all), it’s what has aired to the nation the night before that gets the most ink and attention. There’s a different immediacy when recapping the day after most viewers have watched that program.

In the age of Peak TV (or, as Hollywood Reporter critic Tim Goodman rephrased it, “Too Much TV”), generating that kind of chatter and momentum puts you in the current zeitgeist. Google how many sites are still trying to find ways to recap Game of Thrones weeks after the last episode of Season 6 and you’ll get my point.

The premium channels

The dominant premium channels are HBO and Showtime, with subsets also succeeding (Cinemax, owned by HBO, and Starz). Their advantage is that they are compensated directly from the cable subscriber, a kind of Netflix with a middle man (the cable system) and a regular programming lineup.

Considering what we have examined before, premium channels would seem to have the best of both worlds. You have subscribers (like Netflix, Hulu and Amazon). You have the advantages of being on air (like FX and AMC). And, in the case of HBO, you also have a standalone streaming service available without a cable subscription.

The HBO model is the best in the industry, but you’ve got to wonder. In this era of Peak TV, does the future of HBO really look that bright?

I’d say yes because HBO built its business on the shoulders of the best brand in the business. “It’s Not TV. It’s HBO” was brilliant. It was a stronger version of AMC’s “Stories Matter Here” because it more clearly explained that HBO was different and better.

HBOIt also gave the network brand permission to do anything. It could do drama, comedy, documentary (it has the best documentary division on TV), comedy specials and movies. HBO is so good at branding that its theme for HBO GO, “It’s HBO. Anywhere” speaks to the control issue that streaming currently owns.

HBO has a model to follow, but there is another issue to consider.

The relationship between content and brand

As part of our brand relaunch process, we do a brand audit. This exercise looks at everything the brand does, both physically and emotionally, so we can be sure the brand can fulfill the promise. One of the values we examine is brand-product relationships. Do the products themselves follow the brand?

Brand AuditFor example, if the brand promise is about simplicity, do the products of the brand make things simpler for its customers? If they don’t, we tell the company that they shouldn’t create that product because the brand will become less believable. Do it only if it fulfills the promise.

How do the current networks stack up?

The interesting one for me here is AMC. “Story Matters Here” has directed the network to develop a menu of tough, interesting dramas. They may be of varied quality, but there’s no doubt that Preacher, Hell on Wheels, The Walking Dead, Better Call Saul, The Night Manager and Turn came from the same network. That’s not say they have the same style or storytelling angle, but that they fulfill the brand promise.

It’s when they networks away from their promise (if they even have one) when they struggle. For example, what does A&E stand for? Who is the A&E viewer? A&E stands for Arts & Entertainment, although the network has long dropped that association.

It has the successful Duck Dynasty (although it’s not as successful as it once was), but its lineup is littered with The Wahlburgers, Escaping Polygamy, Storage Wars and Bates Motel. The problem A&E has is that it doesn’t have a brand promise that can direct its programming. With that lineup, I don’t even know what that promise would be. This is a network in dire need of a rebrand.

Apple TV

Here’s what we know. Streaming networks have given back control to the viewer and probably started Peak TV in the process. Sophistication is in (even in comedy). And having a brand promise that is fulfilled by your programming is the road to success.

Visibility and preference win the day.

In reality, the way to create a successful network is the same process in creating a successful brand. You find the value that has the highest emotional intensity in the market (through quantitative research) and align your brand with that intensity.

The streaming services have done so well because their own models are aligned with a belief that had been increasing in intensity ever since Apple introduced the iPod: I believe things turn out better when I’m in control. That intensity has gotten stronger in the era of Peak TV.

The one thing missing in the TV landscape is a focused brand promise that is clearly stated and differentiating. Even with the positions of HBO and AMC standing tall, no one has clearly stated who the viewer is when they are watching that network.

Let’s make an assumption. Let’s pretend quantitative research demonstrated that the highest emotional intensity among viewers was the difficulty that FX President John Landgraf stated. That Peak TV means there’s too much good TV.

So how does Apple TV (or something like it) capitalize and align itself with that belief? Since we’ve been waiting years for Apple to fulfill the deathbed promise of Steve Jobs that he had “figured out TV,” we’re going to state what Apple TV should be.

It should be a portal that allows you to build your own network. Apple collects all the access to your channels and develops your own, customized network where you add shows and requests in one place. I’m not just talking about shows that appear on your cable system. It would include Netflix, Amazon and Hulu. That is, you would build your network with streaming networks, cable networks, premium channels and broadcast networks combined into one portal.

This may sound like something similar to a DVR, but not if you had the ability to have one search engine, program your networks, categorize your shows and, mostly importantly, see yourself in the brand itself.

You simply tell Apple TV (through Siri, I imagine) what you want to watch now and in the future, and it pulls it up in an interface that you control and program.

Apple CEO Tim Cook said the future of TV is apps. It’s in simplicity because right now (according to our imaginary research) viewers are overwhelmed with choices and have no easy way to navigate it all from all the sources at their disposal.

Our brand promise is that we make Peak TV watching simple because it’s the smart thing to do.

We have a brand promise and have given control to the viewer. It’s a demonstration of the way to win in today’s current TV landscape: To have a clearly defined brand. Without it, you are A&E.

In a way, I think that’s the problem the broadcast networks are having. The definitions of what describes NBC over CBS or any of the others are blurred, and often defined by on-air personalities. CBS probably has the best brand in the market but that’s mostly because it has procedurals that have many variations (such as the CSI and Law & Order series) and appeal to an older demographic.

The Peak TV show that got away.

We leave you with this. The most interesting broadcast network TV show of the last decade was Hannibal, a dreamlike expression of evil that was gorgeous and disturbing – and canceled after two seasons. It should have been a gigantic hit. But it aired on NBC and nothing about NBC’s brand gave it permission to run Hannibal. Viewers, therefore, were sure that Hannibal was a failure without seeing a frame of it.

If Hannibal had been on AMC, FX or HBO, I believe it would have been a smash.

Brand is the key to success for any business. It’s just as important in Landgraf’s Peak TV.

Brand Research not standard research

About brand research and how to make it strategic

Brand research is what you conduct after you have studied the problem and hypothesized the solutions. Most of the research that we see is hardly worth the paper it is printed on because it is generally devoid of any real insight and illuminates all that is already known.

Socrates taught us that the questions we ask are more important than the answers we proffer. Nowhere is this more important than in the field of market research. Asking the right questions will reveal the telling answers. At Resultant Research, we don’t start the questionnaire until well into the branding process because we need to make sure we are testing our hypotheses rather then approaching the market with prejudice. We find open-ended questions less valuable than questions where the respondents are asked to evaluate a pre-set idea.

Effective brand research

This might seem counter intuitive, but rest assured it is correct. Most purchase decisions (service or product) are made without cognitive understanding — we don’t know why we choose what we choose. As a result, if you ask why someone chose a particular brand, they will parrot back to you “price”, “convenience” or “effectiveness.” Yet, within most categories, prices are similar, efficacy is the entry price into the category and convenience is a table stake. It is what you discover beyond these vanilla issues that separates great research from the more common mediocre.

The balance between quantitative and qualitative brand research

There are manly two types of brand market research. We conduct both, but our qualitative research is used to help us better use our quantitative initiatives. In other words, it is used to help us create our quantitative studies. Stealing Share will never embark on a branding project without a research component.

Don’t conduct focus groups

Brand Research tells how to take more market share from competitors
Take more market share

We almost never use focus groups. Rather than providing clarity to your mission, focus groups cloud the results. The data is neither useful nor projectable and, in our judgment, they are a waste of your money.

To answer the questions that are normally answered by focus groups, (read a blog on Focus Groups here) we conduct one-on-one research that allows us to delve into issues that focus groups stifle. This eliminates the prejudice that exists in peer pressure and group mentality.

One of the issues with focus groups is that if you ask for an opinion, you will get one. Deciding if that opinion affects behavior is another matter. Generally speaking, focus groups provide a forum for removing any emotional language from your offering and yet it is exactly those emotionally charged issues that are most memorable. Remove them and you have vanilla ice cream — few will eat it and it is rarely the object of compulsion. Focus groups never recommend chocolate.

As a result, Resultant also does not recommend focus groups as a part of brand research, which can be easily manipulated by both participants and moderators. It is not a scientific approach but rather an anecdotal one, and used by most companies to simply re-affirm what they already want to believe. In the end, focus groups mean nothing. Your brand is far too important for that. It must be supported by objective, projectable and scientific research.

Creative testing and name testing

In brand research, name and creative testing cannot be done to satisfaction. Anyone who tells you differently has placed way too much faith in process and as, John Wooden, the fabled coach at UCLA, said, “Do not confuse activity with accomplishment.” Most companies use focus groups to test names – and you already know the truth about focus groups.

When strategically deciding on a name, choose a name that reflects your strategy that has already been tested in the quantitative research. If you have done it correctly and your strategy is a reflection of your target’s precepts, then it is almost impossible to make a mistake. Few names convey the full meaning and it is the context that provides most of their value.

Picture this: An entrepreneur comes to a brand firm with an idea for a new business that provides travelers with the ability to rent a car worldwide. As a matter of fact, he suggests a name and they decide to test it in a focus group. What would you bet the response would be when they asked for the opinions as they unveiled the name — HERTZ?

Creative testing is not an art. It is a scam.


Contact us at info@resultantresearch.com

Strategic Brand Research

Great brand research asks more than a traditional usage and attitude study does. Supplemental research, like focus groups and name testing, is misleading and a waste of money.Click here for more information.

Meaningful Brand Research

You have to ask the right questions to understand your market and to get them to switch to your product or service. To do this, you must uncover brand belief systems. Click here for more information.

Research Methodology

Methodology matters. Quantitative research is the only true scientific reflection of the market you wish to influence. How you do it is as important as what you do. Click here for more information.

Types of Research

Resultant does qualitative, quantitative, ethnographic, elasticity studies, and conjoint analysis. Click here for more information.

Member of the American Marketing Association

ProAssurance Case Study. How an Insurance Company Grows

The ProAssurance Case Study 

By Tom Dougherty



ProAssurance Case Study the old logoProAssurance is one of the largest underwriters of medical professional liability insurance in the U.S. Based on research, both qualitative and quantitative, the brand strategy developed by Stealing Share for ProAssurance was to align with physicians’ desire to be treated fairly by insurance companies because physicians deal with issues of fairness every day – and, therefore, are more highly sensitive to it when they aren’t treated fairly than most.

All competitors speak of aggressive defense and financial stability, the table stakes you must have to be a professional liability insurance company. No one spoke of the emotional reasons why they would want liability insurance.

ProAssurance case study new logo and themeLike most of its competitors, ProAssurance promised aggressive defense and financial stability – and even its color palette blended in with the competition. Most of the competitors were blue and, those that were not, used black as a primary color.

The concept for the logo was to show a “reveal” that displayed a brighter future of insurance where physicians are treated fairly. The motion of the “reveal” demonstrates a continuing promise of fairness so that physicians understand ProAssurance and the physicians it serves continually seek fairness in all that they do.

The Research

meaningful research commissioned for the ProAssurance Case Study
How the research is conducted matters

Qualitative and quantitative research was completed with physicians in a number of states, digging into usage and attitudes concerning the industry, ProAssurance and its competitors. In addition, the research delved into what drives them as medical professionals, what creates preference and reasons to switch in the insurance industry and the belief systems that make up their personalities.

The outcome of that research created the brand promise of fairness along with numerous strategic and tactical executions in order to capture share. Stealing Share also conducted brand training with ProAssurance employees and agents so the company could fulfill the brand promise of “fairness.”

Brand Standards that Reinforce the Strategy and Personality

From advertising to collateral systems, signage to stationery systems, Stealing Share created a comprehensive brand structure for ProAssurance. Included in the brand standards were cues and examples for logo usage along with messaging and brand personality guidance.

This is Only a Small Part

If you would like to learn more, please contact us to schedule a presentation on our process and how it can help transform your company.

Visit ProAssurance by clicking here

Read a market study on the insurance industry here

See More on ProAssurance Here



Market Research Companies. Resultant Research.

Resultant Research. One of the top global market research companies

Our Market Research Companies and Subsidiaries of the Stealing Share Company

What makes Resultant Research one of the world’s top market research companies? What makes our market research different and better? Simply put, Resultant means business. And your research should mean business. Other research companies don’t make that connection. It is the only reason we exist. To find ways to grow your business and help steal market share.

Our researchers at Resultant approach your market research problems with the same focus and intent as the strategists at our sister company, Stealing Share. Our goal is not only to understand the market but also to unearth market opportunities for brands to thrive, grow and steal market share. This is not market research as usual. Resultant is a full-service market research company with both quantitative and qualitative research skill sets. However, this is where the similarities between Resultant market research and research from other market research companies end.

Our market research is different

The questions Resultant market researchers ask are vastly different from those of more traditional research companies and, as a result, the answers and responses are vastly different and consistently actionable.

All the research tools you may need from a market research companies
All the research tools

This is not research designed to support the status quo or pad fattened egos. This is market research designed to find weaknesses in your strategy and exploit opportunities in your market space. Unlike other market research companies, we seek to understand the brand and market, not simply reflect it. Our researchers probe, question and understand the belief systems that create preference, quantifying behaviors, qualifying equities and bringing you new information. Brand research should not simply verify what you already knew and understood. We vision the market space and tell you where it is today and where it is going tomorrow.

Research findings that are actionable

Market research of this nature requires an anthropological view of strategy, not a mere statistical understanding of market research principles. This focus is simply unavailable from other market research companies.  Our researchers are curious and challenge everything. The result: Resultant Research means business — new business for you, and less for your competition. Resultant Research has worked with Fortune 1000 companies, international companies and small but aggressive companies all over the United States. No research project is too large or too small as long as the company seeks victory and welcomes strategic change.

Contact us at


Member of the American Marketing Association

Strategic Brand Research

Great brand research asks more than a traditional usage and attitude study does. Supplemental research, like focus groups and name testing, is misleading and a waste of money.Click here for more information.

Meaningful Brand Research

You have to ask the right questions to understand your market and to get them to switch to your product or service. To do this, you must uncover brand belief systems. Click here for more information.

Research Methodology

Methodology matters. Quantitative research is the only true scientific reflection of the market you wish to influence. How you do it is as important as what you do. Click here for more information.

Types of Research

Resultant does qualitative, quantitative, ethnographic, elasticity studies, and conjoint analysis. Click here for more information.

Social media isn’t the solution to your marketing and research problems

Social media does have promising opportunities for marketing, but only as another venue. Don’t assume it is the answer to your marketing problems without context. As I’ve always said, social media must be approached like any other form of marketing. If you don’t have the right message, it doesn’t matter how many blogs you write, tweets you tweet or Facebook updates you link.

Now comes an even more sinister, proposed use of social media: Using it in place of market research. IBM recently completed a study with chief marketing officers to find out how much they are using social media and in what ways.

social_mediaWhat caught my eye was that less than half of them are checking blogs, third-party reviews and consumer reviews and rely mostly on market research to get a reading of the pulse of their target audiences.

Good for them.

Checking what’s said online is something all CMOs must do, but don’t think it means all that much. They are qualitative in nature, much like focus groups and online questionnaires.

The group dynamic dominates focus groups; meaning honest answers are rarely given. That’s why we never do them. And online research means you have a self-selected audience taking part in the questionnaire. You only get the extremes (hate you or love you) without having projectable data that can tell you if your brand is resonating and why, and what you need to do to make it more meaningful and move the needle.

Social media only gives you shadings, and what you find there must be tested in market research. As it is in marketing, social media is only a tool.

Even more shockingly, the authors of the study suggested that social media could be a way to evaluate current marketing and enable CMOs to initiate change within a company. Return on their marketing investment was considered the best way to evaluate by CMOs and the study’s authors suggested social media was better than that.

I have a different way to evaluate. How about measuring if your company or brand is stealing market share? Isn’t that the whole point?