- By Topic
Television is one of America’s most beloved pastimes—gathering around the screen with friends and family the night “your show” is on is an American institution in and of itself. Taking advantage of the glitz and glam of the small screen is one way magazine publishers seem to be hitting home runs, yet one has to wonder about the complex behind-the-scenes relationship of running a publication that is centered on a television program and vice versa.
In this in-depth feature we’ll see how seven different publications each take on unique approaches to deliver their brands into a multiplatform world, something the has proved successful for each company and shows that when TV and print collide, hard and fast rules can fall by the wayside.
Hearst: Food Network, HGTV and O, The Oprah Magazine
There haven’t been many publications that have come out of the Hearst family that have been associated with television programs. For the publications that are tied to the tube—Food Network Magazine, HGTV Magazine and O, The Oprah Magazine—the decision to translate these brands onto the page did not come lightly.
“For me, it breaks down to three buckets,” says John Loughlin, executive vice president and general manager for Hearst Magazines. “There’s an assessment to see if there is a passionate consumer audience that is highly engaged and if there’s an audience of scale. Magazines with 300,000 units of circulation aren’t optimal for us—we’re really looking for 700,000 at the low end and 4 million at the high end, so we need a passionate audience of scale.”
Loughlin adds that the strongest magazine brands have multiple advertisers looking to reach the audience, something that is seriously considered before the publisher agrees to sign a partnership with a TV network. An analysis of the positioning within the Hearst wheelhouse is also undertaken when the company initially mulls the idea.
“Another thing we consider, and we take this very seriously, is how do we feel about our potential partner?” he says. “These projects typically take anywhere from six months to two years to gestate before a magazine pops out so you really get a sense of your partner. The long-term successes in many ways are dependent on how in-synch you are with your partner, in addition the size of the audience and the breadth of the advertising support.”
Loughlin says that the magazines Hearst creates in partnership with entities like Scripps, which owns the Food Network, are never programming guides, but are publications inspired by television experiences.
“Very rarely do we explicitly copy or interpret a show onto the pages of the magazine,” he says. “This is true whether it be Oprah, Food Network or HGTV. The magazines that we create in partnership out of television activity have the look, feel and essence of the television brand but in no way are they imitations of it. They brake new ground and broaden the experience for the consumer.”
In the case of Food Network Magazine, editors may, for example, provide content that centers on television star Paula Deen in her personal kitchen cooking holiday appetizers, but an article won’t talk about the show or cover the happenings that take place during a program segment.
“One of the reasons we’ve been so successful with this is because it’s not a carbon copy of the television show but an interpretation of things,” he says.
Food Network’s ratebase will increase to 1.45 million beginning this summer, the seventh ratebase bump for the title since it launched in 2009. The most recent increase is taking effect for the January/February 2012 issue, capping at 1.4 million.
Shortly after the publication debuted it was named one of the most notable launches of 2009 and the publisher was able to triple circulation by 2010. The magazine now expects circulation for the second half of 2011 to be about 21 percent above ratebase. Single-copy sales for the second half of 2011 are projected at an increase of 15 percent over the second half of 2010. Loughlin says 33 percent of all food-related magazine sales at retail come from Food Network Magazine.
While the buzz for this title seems to be fairing well, one does have to wonder about the relationship between ratings and newsstand sales. When Oprah Winfrey’s daytime talk show went off the air after 25 years there was a dip in newsstand sales, and something Hearst president David Carey attributed to uncertainty in the newsstand marketplace as a whole, according to Crain’s New York.
Ratings Versus Circ
When asked how ratings affect a publication’s performance, Loughlin says there isn’t much connection.
“There is not a hugely tight correlation between day-to-day, week-to-week or period-to-period ratings and the circulation of the magazine,” he says. “Consumers who are watching television proactively tune in on a Tuesday, might not on a Wednesday and come back to it Saturday—it’s really about the consumer’s discretionary time. Consumers order a magazine or pay for a magazine and that’s the key differentiator, the fact that they’re paying for it. It also comes once a month, and because it doesn’t have the same kind of shelf life that an episode of Iron Chef or Oprah’s former daily television show, studies have shown consumers come back multiple times. The reality is there isn’t a tight correlation between ratings and circulation.”
Loughlin says overall size of a viewing audience, instead of ratings, is really what matters.
“It’s one thing to tune in once a week and say ‘I like this show’ but it’s another thing to say I like this brand enough that I will spend $18, which is our introductory price on Food Network Magazine,” he says. “We do see seasonality, however. The Food Network and the magazine do well around the holidays—no mystery there. People get excited for Halloween, get ready for Thanksgiving and prep for Christmas. We’ll see stronger ratings and sales then, which I believe is more seasonal than anything else.”
Partnering with a television network has its perks when it comes to promotion. HGTV Magazine generated 25,000 orders after 15-second and 30-second commercials aired on the channel. Promotional messages about publications also appear on the bottom of television programs. Additionally, the Scripps Network aired a 1-hour special called “The Making of HGTV Magazine,” to promote the publication.
“This was a great way to introduce the magazine to their enormous television audience,” says Loughlin. “HGTV also does a major Urban Oasis Sweepstake where they give away a home. They allowed us to partner with them in promotion—people can enter the sweepstakes and also sign up for a subscription. Utilizing what the television world would call 'stunting' is a terrific way for us to introduce a companion product that is already predisposed to the brand. We also use our websites and their website to introduce the magazine and easily allow people to subscribe to it.”
So far 165,000 subscriptions have been generated from the HGTV website and email newsletters that went to both audiences. Loughlin estimates that the first issue of HGTV Magazine could sell as many as 300,000 single copies. O, The Oprah Magazine had also seen slight bumps in single copy sales when the show’s host would mention an issue of the magazine, or show the cover of it on her daytime talk show.
Bonnier: Florida Travel & Life, Caribbean Travel & Life and UFC Magazines
When the focus comes to Bonnier, the reality of the TV-branded magazine shows its diversity. The company has described itself as “bullish” when it comes to this sector of its portfolio and each of its publications tied to television takes unique approaches.
Caribbean Travel & Life and Florida Travel & Life magazines are both tied to television shows on the Discovery Channel, with each emerging in the last decade. The differences that are immediately seen from the Hearst titles lie with the television programming.
“It’s unique and important to know that we buy time,” says Guy Britton, Director of TV and digital media for the Bonnier Travel Group. “In the Caribbean series we’ve had 263 individual episode airings—we’ve produced 8 episodes in the Caribbean and about 8 in Florida. We’re doing a combination of things in terms of distribution. I created this myself and I did it to promote audience development. I was looking for a way to promote the website and I knew I needed quality video content on my website. In the travel business there wasn’t good quality content out there and anything that was good was cost prohibitive. We decided then to develop something ourselves.”
The Discovery Channel has no role in producing the content for television that is tied to Bonnier; instead the publisher looks to produce to the standards of the network.
“They’ve been very partnership oriented,” says Britton. “Our relationship with the programming department has been very different than if I was going to one of the programming director. I can buy Saturday mornings or other times—it all depends on what you’re doing.”
Edit Tightly Integrated with Programming
While Hearst aims to reinterpret the mission of television programs into print, the case with Bonnier Travel Group is slightly different since the publisher produces the television content. Britton says that since the editorial content is focused on travel, the content from the magazine translates well to television. The editorial team actually pitches ideas for television content and helps to design the programs of the show.
“We just did a feature on Tortola a few issues ago,” he says. “We went into the back roads and behind the scenes in kitchens. We did the same thing on TV—they’re not different by nature, but the production of them is different. Together with the editors of the magazine we develop the shows and ideas are vetted through the editorial department. The publishing department works with sponsors to develop what they need, but editors vet everything. Our executive editor, Sarah Gabbadon, was our host for several of the episodes, so it’s definitely integrated.”
The shows can be “interpreted as a 30-minute commercial for the magazine,” says Britton. There are commercial spots built in to promote subscriptions and the television program connects to the website which introduces viewers to the magazine.
“It links back digitally also—there’s an iPad edition of each episode,” he says. “With our most recent one, Aruba, we have an iPad guide available for download. In the TV show a pop up comes on screen that says, ‘Download our free app on the iPad and find all these places featured in the show.’”
While Hearst’s Loughlin doesn’t see a connection between ratings, newsstand sales and subscriptions, Britton says a relationship does exist.
“I think there is a connection,” he says. “It’s hard to draw a direct correlation, but Caribbean Travel & Life has one of the best newsstand sell-throughs of any of our magazines at Bonnier. Part of that is the subject matter, but I think the television show really helps. We have a very high MMR Research audience rating and I think the TV show has had an impact on that in terms of our engagement and overall awareness of the magazine for a larger audience.”
According to the most recent filings from the Audit Bureau of Circulations, Caribbean Travel & Life had a total paid and verified circulation of 151,221 for the period ending June 30, 2011, with single copies at almost 15,600.
The magazine promotes episodes of the show with e-newsletters the Friday before an episode premiers, which goes out to the list of subscribers and others. The television programs and magazines also share social media pages to leverage promotions.
“Over 50 percent of our readers surveyed say they have seen at least one of our episodes,” says Britton. “There’s a huge crossover between the print audience and elsewhere. Even though I might be buying an 8:30 AM timeslot on a Saturday morning, I’m telling my readers to go find it and they are and they’re recording it. There’s most definitely a connection. Every episode also has a reader poll—if we do a 'Best of Puerto Rico' campaign, our editors will nominate 10 categories and we’ll drive traffic to the site for people to vote.”
Sweepstakes are also integrated cross-platform between the magazine, TV show and websites. In this way, the publication can leverage advertisers from the print pages and strike agreements with them to advertise on television and online as well.
“We have pop-ups in the show and a dedicated 30-second commercial that talks about the sweepstakes and contest together,” he says. “When someone votes in the readers poll they are entered in a sweepstakes, for example, to win a vacation to Puerto Rico and the results of the poll are published in the magazine. It’s a brave new world, we’ve got to roll with the punches.”
One Element of an Overall Content Play
UFC Magazine, which is a newly acquired Bonnier property from American Media, Inc., is not so much centered on an individual television show but on a sport that is aired on multiple networks. The UFC league just signed a 7-year contract with Fox, FX and FUEL TV to broadcast the mixed martial arts sport to fans, in addition to providing commentary and analysis programs about the event. The magazine is heavily interlinked with the happenings on television—the official UFC Facebook fan page for the sport is also the Facebook page of the magazine.
“UFC Magazine is a print product but it’s part of the overall UFC content play and we’re related to everything within that arena,” says Seth Kelly, editor-in-chief of UFC Magazine. “For every photo shoot we’re shooting b-roll behind the scenes for the tablet edition. We’re also working on a UFC Magazine web show. That will be a monthly web show produced by UFC’s in-house production team and those can easily be pushed to FUEL or to our tablet edition. We’re promoting the on-air talent and giving them columns in the magazine.”
Kelly says that the magazine will leverage the television programs to get viewers, and potential readers, to send in questions for UFC athletes via social media, with the mixed martial arts fighters responding in the pages of the magazine.
“The main thing for me is I want to get subscribers for the magazine and I want to drive subscriptions up as much as possible,” he says. “I think you do that by letting people know about the product itself and showing them what they can have and that it’s part of the overall experience—owning and reading UFC Magazine is another level of the UFC brand. We open all of the content possible for use of the television show and let them decide what’s relevant for their audience. The more we have available, I think the more readers we’ll bring in.”
The editor meets with the production teams of FX and FUEL to discuss strategy going forward and UFC TV programs tease content that is from the magazine and display the cover on screen as well. Sports commentators will also promote the magazine and talk about a new issue.
“UFC is a very integrated group when it comes to strategy and marketing,” says Kelly. “We’re cross-promoting on pay-per-view, we’re cross-promoting with television partners, on social media and on UFC.com.”
Kelly could not offer statistics on the relationship between ratings and sales—Bonnier began distributing 255,000 copies of the magazine to the newsstand in December 2011.
The Veteran: National Geographic
One brand, it seems, has truly perfected the model of multiplatform magazine integration with the Internet, television and face-to-face events: The National Geographic Society.
“There’s a tremendous advantage to having 24/7 air support of a branded channel,” says Declan Moore, executive vice president of the National Geographic Society and president of publishing. “We’ve grown in leaps and bounds.”
The group has two television channels in the United States that are produced in cooperation with Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, and more internationally. This association has been streaming content since 2001 and the channel is currently available in 70 million homes.
“We’re well placed for this three screen world that we live in,” says Moore. “As we’re producing content across these platforms we can create media conversions to brake through the clutter that is out there through large franchise initiatives.”
In the November issue, for example, National Geographic featured the Anglo-Saxon gold discovery in Staffordshire, England. Moore says it was one of the best selling covers for the group in 2011. To fully cash-in, the franchise came armed in a multiple platform way: there was a special on the National Geographic channel the first week of November and there was an exhibition at the company’s Washington, D.C. headquarters, which Moore says was one of the most successful in years. The author of the feature, Caroline Alexander, released a book on the same topic that month as well. The National Geographic website, in addition to its children’s titles, were also involved in the campaign.
Bringing Content to Life
“That’s an instance where we were aligning content across all of our platforms at the same time to create that kind of buzz and interest,” he says. “With the great reach of the channel, it enables us to tell a 360-degree story and deliver it across the media platforms that we have. Going forward, our teams on both television and the magazine side of things have a very close working relationship between the editors and producers looking in ways to bring great stories to life and deliver them across platforms.”
Moore says there is no mathematical model that shows X rating generates Y amount of sales on newsstands, but he did say there is some correlation between the two due to the degree of which cross promotion happens—the channel will display ads for the magazine and the magazine runs ads for the channel.
“It used to be if you wanted change you had to work in technology, but really if you want change you have to work in media,” he says. “We have change happening every single day. Traditional business models that we’ve known for many years were considered successful based on how well you could execute to the business model. Now we’re in this world where a lot of things are changing, a lot of business models are being disrupted and that’s not just with the print model. Things are going on in the television space and online because what was happening is quickly changing with the rise to social, mobile and the tablet. Things are moving at 100 miles-per-hour, which makes for a very exciting time. What’s encouraging is that we’re starting to beat a path on a way forward that is reenergizing for folks that might have felt under siege in the media business, which makes me pretty optimistic about the future of the media business.”