The Evolution of Cable Network Branding: Time Warner in the Post-Network Era, 2001-2011
From 2001 to 2011, there were a number of significant changes, such as increased audience fragmentation and new media technologies, which impacted the television industry and continue to threaten the financial strength and success of cable television networks. The cable television industry employed branding as a major combatant to manage such challenges. Branding is the most important tool in the post-network era, yet networks use it in ways that challenge previously held scholarly assumptions about the cable television industry. Cable television network branding functions in two main ways – one as a performance intended for competitors, distributors, and other key industry players; and two as a means of rationalization, essentially a tool that network executives can wield whenever they want or need to justify a decision, action or behavior.
Through interviews with television industry executives, attendance at major industry events and an analysis of trade publications, I examine the branding and promotional strategies of TBS, TNT and HBO. Industrial strategies in the post-network era are fragile and uncertain with regards to technology, partnerships, economics, programming and distribution. Thus, cable networks turn to branding as a mechanism to work through institutional, industrial, economic and technological issues that have been and continue to shift. In this analysis of how and why cable networks use branding, I explore the currently evolving post-network era and television’s future.