Sponsoring the Today Show and others

Advertisers have been scrambling for the last few years to find new channels to reach target audiences. People are cutting the cord, watching TV on streaming services and recording shows on their DVRs so they can fast forward through the commercials.

Therefore, advertisers have looked for other avenues, primarily social media and ads on YouTube and the like. TV still represents the best way to reach a broad audience, but the playing field has become more complex.

Today Show
Is sponsoring a show like The Today Show the new (old) thing?

So what are advertisers to do? Well, they can go back to the future, which is just what American Express has done. It will now sponsor entire segments of the Today Show that will reduce the number of commercials, increase the amount of show content and give American Express a channel to raise its profile.

Sponsoring The Today Show is old hat, but also the new wave.

This tactic, of course, is nothing new. In fact, it’s as old as television itself. The early 50s saw the Texaco Star Theater, a vaudeville show hosted by Milton Berle. It was common for shows throughout that decade and the 60s to have a title sponsor that simply owned that time on the air.

American Express is spending $28.1 million of its $141.7 million advertising budget on NBC alone, with a good chunk of it going to the Today Show. Is this the wave of the future (the past)?

Absolutely. And it won’t just be broadcast TV. Networks and streaming services are playing in a field advertising dollars spread thin. It’s not a big stretch to imagine advertisers owning a show, either on broadcast, cable or even (gulp) streaming.

Does this approach have the potential to turn off viewers? Yes and no. It would actually be welcomed, if the programming already includes advertising. As a viewer, I’ve always appreciated the European model in which the programs are sponsored and ads are shown at the beginning of the program, thus not interrupting during the show itself.

I don’t expect an immediate push to adopt the American Express Today Show model. But don’t be surprised if, in the desperation to open up new channels, that advertisers and TV networks don’t consider it more often.

FS1 is making its pitch even if it’s hard to find

You’re not alone if you’ve been searching your TV guide looking for the baseball playoffs and becoming confused. The championship series for both the American League and National League are being played out far down your channel list on FS1.

FS1, short for Fox Sports 1, is Fox’s answer to ESPN and airing the championship series on it is Fox’s attempt to get more eyeballs on a channel that so far has been largely ignored by viewers.

You can find Cubs-Dodgers on FS1.

I have news for you frustrated sports fans. You’re going to see more of this and Fox is right to do it.

FS1 taking advantage of ESPN’s weakening brand.

FS1, launched about three years ago, has mostly been known for lower-level college sports and some mixed martial arts. But recent moves, including signing some ex-ESPN staffers such as Skip Bayless, demonstrate that Fox is serious about making FS1 a true contender to ESPN. Right now, ESPN still dominates in the ratings but Fox is betting that viewers catching playoff baseball on its sports channel will funnel their viewing habits to the Fox channel. Promos for FS1 programming litter the baseball broadcasts to combat its single biggest problem: Lack of awareness.

We’re at this point because networks saw an opening with the slow defraying of the ESPN brand. The sports network, which began with humble beginnings in the late 70s, dominated the sports conversation so much over the last 20 years that many sports, especially college football and basketball, adjust their schedules to ESPN’s whim.

What ESPN should be doing.

But ESPN, while still leading in the ratings, has seen viewership drop for its flagship show, SportsCenter, and a weaker loyalty to its brand. It has suffered a talent drain (Bayless to FS1, Dan Patrick to NBC, Bill Simmons to HBO and his own media site, The Ringer) and fewer contracts with sports leagues. (Fox, for example, will air the college football playoffs in January.)

Few of us understand what ESPN stands for anymore. It once stood for being immersed in the world of sports. Without the monopoly on league contracts, however, it can’t hold that spot. Even the sports leagues themselves now have their own networks. (The MLB Network aired some of the earlier baseball playoff rounds.)

FS1 isn’t the only network punching a hole into ESPN’s balloon. NBCSports and CBS Sports Network are also on air. ABC, the owner of ESPN, has responded by cutting costs at ESPN.

Downsizing is almost always the signifier that a brand is losing ground. Instead, ESPN should be searching for what brand meaning would regain its preference.

The damage is done. So when you lament the baseball playoffs being on channel 400 (FS1 here in Greensboro), you’d better wise up and greet in the new era. It’s here to stay.

The appealing brand of Shark Tank

I am not the easiest audience to impress. Just ask my son, who this past weekend attempted to share a segment from the Comedy Central sketch series, Key & Peele. While he was laughed so hard that tears streamed down his face (the segment was one entitled “High on Potenuse”) mine barely moved a muscle. I could see his intrigue in the show, but regretfully, I won’t be binge watching that series any time soon.

I love just anything on PBS. It was easy for me to become ridiculously infatuated with the HBO series’ The Sopranos and The Wire. Lately, though, I have been snarked by Shark Tank.

Shark Tank
The appeal of Shark Tank lies in the belief in entrepreneurship.

Shark Tank has filled up the capacity of my DVR. Simply put, I cannot get enough. There is something I admire about each of the “sharks.” They have wits about them, they follow their gut and are willing to take a leap of faith more times than not. And they are entertaining.

Shark Tank taps into a universal belief.

In the past I’ve hinted at my viewership of the Tank and have even blogged on products presented on the show. But now’s the time to give the show a complete piece of my mind.

With the risk of sounding hokey, Shark Tank is good medicine for our county. It’s the “American Dream” at its finest. It’s a platform where entrepreneurs with a great idea (or a bad one, even) has a chance to fully realize their potential. Shark Tank also offers helpful feedback from a group of folks who understand brand remarkably well.

The show’s brand power comes from the belief that anyone can be successful, if they are just innovative enough and work hard. That’s a belief many of us share. So we put ourselves in the position of the those presenting new products and those judging them.

I cannot recommend it enough. As for me, I have another episode, or 30, to catch up on.

PBS has a winner with Daniel Tigers Neighborhood

I’ve written a bunch about my newly minted role as a grandfather. It’s what I love most about life these days, so it’s hard for me to ignore. My two grandchildren, Rhegan and Liam, fill me with an exuberant amount of joy. Such is the way of a one and three year-old. Life is about being in the moment — whether that moment is good or bad — which is inspiring to me.

More than that, Mom and Dad, and most times the grandparents too, are the most important people in their world. A humbling thought. The brands we all introduce to the munchkins are those that we have a similar faith in, especially with that faith placed on us.

Daniel Tigers NeighborhoodAnd so, whenever we watch a TV show with them, we look for Daniel Tigers Neighborhood on PBS Kids.

Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood is the amalgamation of teachable lessons, modernity, and the sentimentality of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. It’s also a PBS program, a television brand in which I have a great deal of faith.

Daniel Tigers Neighborhood hits on on cylinders.  

Sure, Daniel Tiger will drive many adult crazy after a few episodes. It sports repetitive songs and saccharine characters. But the show isn’t for us, it’s for the kids. They love it like sugar. Unlike sugar, however, Daniel Tiger actually has positive affects on children and their emotional well-being Daniel (based on the puppet from Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood) copes with his parents going out for a date, while a catchy mantra of “Grownups come back” is sung. I’ve also watched episodes dealing with jealousy, sleeping in the dark or dealing with bullies. All of which are vital lessons for children.

With Daniel Tiger, I take comforted in knowing that it does the little buggers good.

Will LeEco kill the Vizio brand? You bet.

Chinese content provider LeEco announced that it will purchase US television brand Vizio for $2 billion. Until recently, few consumers in the US had even heard of LeEco. In China, it is a pretty big deal. Called the “Netflix of China,” LeEco’s services runs the gambit from Amazon-like shopping, driverless cars, online content, smart phones to TVs. And that’s not even the full list.

LeEco has been trying to break into the US market for some time now and that task has finally been accomplished. But what does that mean for the Vizio brand?

Say goodbye to the Vizio brand

In 2015, Vizio accounted for one out of every five TVs sold in the US. By and large, Vizio TVs are generally well reviewed and, with a 20% market share, there are a lot of US consumers that would agree.

But don’t be surprised if LeEco kills the Vizio brand.

If true to form, LeEco will first change Vizio’s name to be in sync with the rest of its products. It will join the family of LeTV (everything in LeEco’s stable begins with Le) and LeEco will incorporate its acquired brand into what it refers to as its “premium ecosystem user interface.” That will allow consumers to have access to LeEco’s online content with 100,000 TV episodes and 500 films. Compare that to Netflix (4,300 movies) and Hulu (5,300).

Why Vizio will become something else.

But LeEco is not really buying Vizio to get into the TV business in the US. It is buying Vizio to get all of its businesses in the US, particularly its mobile phones and driverless cars. That is further proof that Vizio is doomed.

Chinese companies have traditionally had a difficult time in the US. American’s won’t buy Chinese car brands (though we buy US brands made in China). We shy away from Chinese TV brands – TCL, Hisense, and ZTE – as well as Chinese phone brands like Xiaomi, Huawei and Meizu. Again, we have no problem buying Chinese-made products owned by western companies. But, considering the current economic and political climates, there is something about Chinese companies that leads Americans to reject them.

The once strong rallying cry of “Made in the USA” has switched to “I don’t really care where it’s made as long as it’s not a Chinese company.” What’s odd is that we have little problem when a Chinese company buys a US company such Starwood Hotels, Smithfield Foods and GE’s appliances division. When a Chinese company enters the US market as its own Chinese brand, however, we dig in our heels.

This is the problem that LeEco will face if it really wants to be successful in the US market. It will be much easier for it to succeed if it kept the Vizio brand intact instead of bringing it into the LeEco ecosystem of brands.

If Vizio becomes LeTV, the acquisition will fail.