Whose Stories Matter?: AMC's Post-Network Brand

Curator's Note

Attempts to brand television networks, a practice that became most important in the multi-channel era, have been fascinating – and sometimes amusing (Syfy?).  Undoubtedly some network brands are more successful than others: USA, TNT and Bravo seem to have successfully re-branded in the past few years.

The network re-branding that I find most interesting right now is AMC (“Story Matters Here”).  In trying to shake its image as the place to see generally low-rated, and older skewing “classic” movies, AMC dropped its use of the name American Movie Classics and began airing original series: Mad Men (2007), Breaking Bad (2008), Rubicon (2010), and the upcoming The Walking Dead (2010).  But what is the thread tying these shows together, or the brand identity being forged?  How do shows about a philandering advertising executive, a meth-dealing chemistry teacher, a conspiracy-ridden intelligence analyst and a zombie-fighting police officer – each of which seems to mobilize different stylistic conventions – create a cohesive brand image for a network?  Is the concept of “Story” enough to tie these programs together into a consistent brand that will connect with audiences?

Perhaps AMC’s branding doesn’t have anything to do with identifying a cohesive image for viewers, but rather is about creating a brand image for advertisers, which, despite the shows’ low ratings, has imparted AMC’s ad time with brand equity.  AMC has forged an identity around its ability to reach young, upscale, male viewers through its branding campaigns (see the attached promos), its original programming, and its experimentation with psychographic data.  The story that matters at AMC becomes clearer: television that allows advertisers to reach men.  Not just all men, but men who don’t usually watch television.  Women may be along for the ride (just as men are on Lifetime’s Project Runway), but the focus is on male viewers and male consumers.

Audiences are increasingly moving away from watching television on TV networks and are instead downloading their programming or watching on DVD.  They may not even know that Mad Men and Breaking Bad air on AMC.  So it makes sense for branding efforts to focus more on advertisers than viewers (a phenomenon that John McMurria took note of several years ago).  Does AMC’s branding strategy simply bring to light that, in this post-network era, it really is the support of the industrial structure itself that network branding campaigns need to nurture, leaving individual programs to chase the loyalty of distracted viewers.



 What facinates me about AMC is how they blend the narrative of their programs into their ads.  The best examples of course are the Mad Men-styled vignettes featuring copywriters brainstorming pitches for Unilever products.  Last season even Desperate Housewives toyed with themed commercials for Sprint that seemed to be part of the actual show.  

I find the idea of branding networks with specific identities to be a fascinating topic, especially with AMC who has been attempting to make a shift from a “movie” network to a network of established quality television shows. It seems very true that in this shift the network has formed an identity around a male dominated demographic. Every major show that plays on AMC, like Breaking Bad and Mad Men, have male driven narratives and ads that depict mostly men or men and women in patriarchal roles (such as Mad Men). I think the main driving force AMC has going for it is this idea of quality. Even though the network has very few shows, the shows it does air have been consistently of high quality (even the films they show are established classics). In that sense it has come to be known as a “trusted” network, one that airs shows that cater to a more serious viewer. This might tie into the networks ability to reach men and especially men who don’t usually watch television. I myself am one of those people who never watch television but will consciously make an effort to watch a new episode of a show on AMC. I think AMC has found a way to make a shift towards nurturing the industrial structure itself while at the same time still finding ways to draw in viewers to their network through established quality programming.

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