2011 was a year to remember for Frances Berwick for several reasons. It marked her 15th year with U.S. cable net Bravo, and also gave her more responsibility within the NBCUniversal cable family, as president of both Bravo Media and Style Media.
The year also came in as Bravo’s sixth “best year ever” in a row, with the Top Chef and Real Housewives net notching up an 8% year-over-year increase in adults 18-49, placing it just outside the top 10 U.S. cable networks for the demo, at number 12.
“I’m very happy when I look back from five or six years ago when we were a top 30 network,” she tells realscreen. “I think we’ve managed to transition from being a television network to being an entertainment brand with a lot of traction on our other platforms.”
While those other platforms are gaining increasing importance for the television industry at large, Bravo has proven itself to be a leader in both cultivating and growing an engaged audience through savvy social media strategies, promoting interactivity between audience and talent, and developing multi-platform brand extensions that actually make good on the promise of transmedia. Berwick cites Top Chef: Last Chance Kitchen as a prime example: in the Toyota-sponsored webisode series, produced by Top Chef prodco Magical Elves, eliminated chefs face off against each other for the opportunity to come back to the TV show for its on-air finale.
“There’s been a lot of focus in the industry on driving viewers from TV to mobile or from TV to online. [Here] we’ve shown that we can drive viewers backwards and forwards,” says Berwick. “You’re still able to follow Top Chef as a linear TV experience but you get the added thing of following this extra storyline that will affect the outcome of the television show.”
Berwick says part of the recipe for strengthening the Bravo and Style brands calls for fully understanding their audiences, and study of audience segmentation has been a priority for Bravo for several years. Those segments include the oft-mentioned “PTA Trendsetters” and “Will and Gracers,” but also now include such buckets as “Metro Competitors,” a male-skewing, upscale set that loves competition shows; the “Newborn Grownups,” comprised of the 20-somethings just out of college and embarking on new lives on their own; and the “Better Me” types, which prefer aspirational programming, a segment also aggressively targeted by Discovery Communications’ Oprah Winfrey Network.
“We like our audience segmentation jargon, but it does work for us and it readily speaks to the audiences we’re going after,” Berwick says.
“I’m never quite sure what the balance of ‘science to gut’ is but we’ve been very fortunate in our high batting average and we have very talented teams on both sides creating these shows,” she adds.
What are your plans for original programming on both brands for 2012?
[For Bravo] we grew an additional 20% of original programming hours in 2011, and we’re on track to drive that up to another 25% increase for next year. The reasons are obvious: number one, it’s working. And what we’re increasingly finding is, the brand is the originals. So for us it’s all about reducing the acquired content that doesn’t really speak to the brand.
The same is true for Style. We have an educated audience there which is very involved. We’re building up to just under a million Twitter followers and that’s a vast audience that’s hungry for more information about fashion and beauty.
Part of what defines Bravo as a brand is its attention to multi-platform engagement. Why has that been a priority?
The value of second screen is really about creating an urgency to view and encouraging people to not wait a week before watching something on their DVRs. The whole notion of social TV – where you’re having people interact on another platform during the actual show – that’s all helping appointment viewing.