National Geographic got it right as early as 1965. While even recent print-to-TV ventures have faltered because they were too literal, Nat Geo wisely sought to expand its general brand mission – not the magazine’s format, columns or features – to the then-emerging platform. Americans on Everest, the first National Geographic TV special, aired on CBS and delivered on the magazine’s tradition of breathtaking images and out-of-this-world stories. ‘Those were and are two great assets of the magazine that lend themselves to television in a direct way,’ says Michael Rosenfeld, president of National Geographic Television. The brand’s penetration speaks to the success of the approach. Nat Geo Channels International, which debuted in fall 1997, reaches about 190 million households in 34 languages. Nat Geo Channel US, launched in 2001, is available in 64 million homes. (The flagship magazine has a circulation of about 8.5 million people worldwide.)
‘National Geographic exploits its content very well,’ says Barbara Friedman, VP of marketing for Elle and Elle Décor magazines, and an architect of the deal for Project Runway. ‘There was a time in the 1980s when we all thought ‘Let’s do the Sports Illustrated or People show.’ Most of them fell flat because they didn’t start with the viewer, they started with a magazine brand that wanted to be on TV. The shows, like the magazines, were arranged topic after topic. I don’t know how well that translates.’
Not very well. The history of print/TV partnerships is littered with cautionary tales. And failure can’t always be clearly blamed on a print magazine trying to become a magazine show. For every Martha Stewart success story, there are a dozen Discovery Times Channel, Lifetime magazine or Wall Street Week with Fortune crash and burn collaborations. But Seventeen magazine pairing with MTV to produce Miss Seventeen in 2005 might have helped usher in today’s brave new era of publishing/broadcaster partnerships, which is more about creating complementary content that reaches as many eyeballs as possible than it is about transferring a print property to television and vice versa.
‘If you have a brand with personality and your magazine has authority and a rich relationship with its readers, and if your editor can be a spokesperson, there are a lot of ways you can successfully translate it to television,’ says Steve Sachs, president of Real Simple magazine, who recently announced a co-branding effort with Discovery’s TLC. ‘But you have to step back and evaluate the brand promise and how unique it is on television,’ he adds. ‘A successful magazine might have a unique brand in print, but not on TV.’
Even if all the pieces are in place, does that mean success? And is there a best-before date or can the partnerships evolve? Here’s a look at three print/television co-ventures that, whether winding down or gearing up, are worth watching (and reading).
New kid on the dial: Cosmopolitan TV
Creating a channel
With 58 international editions published in 34 languages, Cosmopolitan magazine is the straight-talking, ultra sexy best friend of women around the world ages 18 to 34. A globally recognized brand with an ad-friendly audience and proven content (sex sells!), it was ideally positioned to transition to television when Toronto-based Corus Entertainment partnered with New York publishing empire The Hearst Corporation to launch Cosmo TV in Canada on February 14. ‘From a marketing perspective, it was a dream,’ says Susan Schaefer, Corus’ VP of marketing. ‘People recognize it immediately and know what it means to them.’
The digi-channel resembles its print predecessor more than most current magazine-to-TV adaptations: airing between programs are five-second bumpers that feature the popular Cosmo Quiz (Is he naughty or nice? Are you a good flirt?) and use content culled from the magazine’s archives, and the channel initiated its own bachelor search – an annual hottie hunt introduced in the magazine more than five years ago. The contest, which plays out on a segment of the Canadian-made series Oh So Cosmo, is a cross-platform initiative that will culminate in an on-air special. ‘We were given access to all the magazine content ever produced, which we can then repackage and repurpose,’ says Schaefer. Much of it enriches the digi’s website in categories familiar to any Cosmo reader (i.e. sex, dating and style).
While there was a Spanish-language precedent for Cosmo‘s conversion to television (there’s a channel in Spain and Latin America), Schaefer notes that meetings held in early days between the tv programming team, the magazine’s us editor Kate White and Hearst execs were critical. ‘We made several trips to New York, during which Kate answered our questions, pointed out the most popular elements in the magazine and helped define the brand. We understood that to be successful, the channel had to feel like the same brand as the magazine.’ Conversely, she says that print brands hoping to make the leap to a channel need the history and reach of a property like Cosmo. ‘Many magazines can translate to a show, but you have to be a pretty iconic brand to become a channel. Plus, Cosmo is fun. I can’t think of a woman who doesn’t want to talk about sex and relationships, and at the end of the day, women want to be entertained.’
The sleeper hit: Project Runway
A model partnership
US-based Bravo TV netted one of its most successful series since Queer Eye for the Straight Guy when The Weinstein Company (then Miramax) partnered with fashion magazine Elle to produce Project Runway, a competition reality show that sees young sartorialists trying to out sew each other to become the next ‘It’ fashion designer. TWC shopped the format to publishing giants looking, in part, for a financial investment when Barbara Friedman, Elle‘s VP of marketing, proposed a successful alternative: ad space for the show, editorial coverage of the winning designer’s line and Elle fashion director Nina Garcia as an on-camera judge. ‘The show hadn’t yet recruited Michael Kors [to be a judge] and needed fashion credibility,’ says Friedman. ‘Elle could lend it that halo.’
Friedman wasn’t a huge fan of reality shows when Project Runway popped up. ‘I thought the genre was going downhill,’ she says. Before the show debuted in December 2004, she continues, ‘most formats were about people eating worms and betraying each other. I had my doubts, but I was intrigued by the idea of doing a glamorous topic.’ If the show bombed, the brand risked public embarrassment. But Elle wanted a platform from which it could penetrate the public conscience; launched in the us in 1985, the magazine wanted a chunk of the spotlight dominated by Vogue, which has been on American newsstands for more than 100 years. ‘We want to be Pepsi to their Coke,’ says Friedman. ‘I believe that magazines, in order to fulfill their promise, need to get out into other media and become part of pop culture. It was a solid risk to take.’ Indeed. The show was nominated for an Emmy after season one and in the run up to this year’s season four, TWC (which produces the series with LA-based prodco Magical Elves) announced a slew of Project Runway licensing agreements for products ranging from jewelry to sewing machines.
While Elle offers up advice, contacts and info to the program producers, the mag doesn’t shape the show’s content. (Garcia’s on-screen involvement came about as an organic solution for integrating the brands.) Its role is to complement the series’ behind-the-scenes action. ‘Fashion doesn’t translate well to TV because you see it in a blink of an eye,’ says Friedman. ‘We photograph the clothes in a setting that’s art directed and beautifully lit. We capture the glamour.’ Advertising is sold as a three-part buy-in between TWC, Bravo and Elle. To entice sponsors such as L’Oreal, which already invests in print ads, the magazine creates enhanced content such as the stand-alone print and digital editions of Project Runway magazine, first created in 2005 for season two.
The architecture of the collaboration inspired a number of copycats. Bravo and Elle Décor, a glossy shelter magazine also overseen by Friedman, entered into a similar arrangement to create Top Design, a format that searches for the next hot interior designer. The deal doesn’t involve TWC, but the show is produced by Magical Elves. Elves is also behind Bravo’s Top Chef, which – you guessed it – looks for tomorrow’s culinary tastemaker. The winner gets a spread in Food & Wine magazine. Top Chef began its fourth season on March 12, and following a lukewarm season one, Top Design is undergoing a makeover, but has been announced for a second run. With the fourth season just wrapped, Project Runway is potentially heading into its final installment – negotiations to extend the contract beyond five seasons have not yet concluded.
The upstart: Real Simple
Building a brand for two
Last year, after two years on PBS, Real Simple magazine dropped a third-year option for its eponymous weekly half-hour series. Then it called in Andy Friendly, president of programming and production for King World, and Greenberg Glusker entertainment department chair David Stanley. Over the next six months, a new show concept was hatched and pitched to TLC, which picked it up and built it out: a deal was struck not just for one show, but for a multimedia partnership that sees the Time Warner Company collaborating with Discovery Communications both creatively and financially. ‘We both talk to real women, presenting info in practical ways,’ says Steve Sachs, president of Real Simple. ‘We realized there was more than a show here.’
Launched in 2000, Real Simple magazine reaches over seven million readers a month and covers style, food, home and health in a way that appeals to women who pick up Martha Stewart Living and think, who has the time to do that? Two years ago, the magazine began to extend its reach to radio, books and retail via licensing deals. TV was the logical next step.
While the PBS program put the magazine on television, the partnership with TLC translates the brand concept – tagged ‘Life made easier’ – for the small screen. The collaboration’s first effort debuts in August. A yet unnamed, 15-ep., primetime makeover show along the lines of What Not to Wear, it will tackle women’s lifestyle habits. TLC and Real Simple will work together to pick the show’s experts; the magazine’s editors will also be considered for on-screen appearances. ‘There will be content in the magazine every month that’s specific to the show or builds off of the show, perhaps by profiling the people featured that week, giving additional information or potentially casting people,’ says Sachs. ‘Our editor [Kristin van Ogtrop] decides what that content will be.’ Related mobile and Web features will also be developed. Advertising sales will package TV, print and online, and will be a joint effort by Real Simple and TLC. ‘This is a partnership, not just a show,’ repeats Sachs, noting the probability of doing additional shows. ‘This is really a brand,’ he finishes. Will Discovery turn TLC into the Real Simple channel? Stay tuned.