Esquire Editor David Granger pitched a TV show to Adam Stotsky. But the general manager for Esquire Network, the cable channel named after Mr. Granger's magazine, passed.
"He was pretty frank with me that it was a good idea," Mr. Granger said, "But his ad salespeople needed to think it would have traction. They aren't convinced yet."
That about sums up the first six months of NBC Universal's Esquire Network as well as its relationship with its namesake magazine. The network is still trying to win over young and affluent men with an ambitious slate of programming, which Esquire magazine editors can critique, but not order up. "Relationships consumers have with magazines are different than what they have with TV networks and programming," Mr. Stotsky said. "It serves a different audience."
Make no mistake: The two sides aren't battling each other. (Mr. Granger described his relationship with Mr. Stotsky as a "working friendship.") And marketers will be closely watching the progress they make in carving out a space for their target audience. "No one else is delivering this type of male audience," said Kirsten Atkinson, media director, Team One, who handles the Lexus account. "The only way to reach young men is sports, and that's really expensive."
NBC Universal rebranded the Style Network last September and raised the Esquire flag as part of a licensing deal with Hearst Magazines. Under the agreement, Esquire has no official say on the type of programming the network airs, nor does it split TV ad revenue. The two media brands talk at least once a month, according to executives at both companies.
Esquire Network is in 75 million households, with a 65% male audience, and viewership has grown every month since inception. But total prime-time viewers average just 78,000, roughly half the 143,000 prime-time viewers Style Network pulled between September and March last year. By comparison, Viacom's Spike averages about 900,000 viewers in prime time season-to-date. Mr. Stotsky said he is pleased by the network's initial performance and that it is already delivering the audience of upscale, young men it promised.
Large marketers have already come aboard, with Jeep among the early advertisers. Chivas Regal partnered with Esquire Network for the web series "Brotherhood," about what it means to be a modern man.
"Any new network will be challenged initially, but they seem open to branded content and creating new opportunities," said Ms. Atkinson.
Esquire.com provides Esquire TV's digital home. It's also the one place where Hearst and NBC Universal split ad revenue. An ambitious redesign of the site is expected this year and Esquire Network will launch its TV Everywhere platform in the second quarter.
Ad-sales teams from the magazine and the network have gone on sales calls together, with conference calls scheduled every two weeks. NBC Universal is slated to present at Hearst's national sales meeting this month. But the teams are also trying to sync up their sales calendars. Print ads are sold well in advance -- Esquire is currently on its summer issues; Esquire Network is selling ads just one month out.
"The goal would be if we could be much more proactive in looking to see what future programming can be," said Jack Essig, Esquire's publisher.
It took NBC Universal about two years to develop Esquire Network, which included an "exhaustive search" of the men's publishing landscape, Mr. Stotsky said. The search brought him and his team to Condé Nast's GQ, which passed on the idea, employees of the magazine said, because it didn't want to relinquish control of its brand and ad sales.
Mr. Stotsky said he was drawn to the Esquire brand's heritage and connection between NBC Universal executives and Mr. Granger.
Under the Esquire banner, Mr. Stotsky has rolled out originals aggressively, debuting 12 unscripted series in just its first three months. It has already picked up second seasons of a batch of shows including "White Collar Brawlers," which pits colleagues against each other in boxing matches; the culinary competition "Knife Fight;" craft-beer series "Brew Dogs;" and extreme competition show "Boundless."
One of Esquire's most buzzed-about series thus far has been "Friday Night Tykes," which explores the world of pee-wee football. It also led to a six-page feature in the magazine. Mr. Granger cited "Friday Night Tykes" as his favorite show on the network. Esquire renewed the series for a second season. The show he didn't connect with, he added, was "Boundless."
Mr. Stotsky said the network will add 15 to 20 new programs in 2014. Also in development is a series from the magazine's sex columnist, Stacey Grenrock-Woods. "We use the magazine as a benchmark to guide our growth," Mr. Stotsky said. "We have monthly calls where we talk about the programming slate and editorial calendar and ways we can collaborate."
Still, some in the industry say Esquire Network is suffering from a lack of identity and questioned NBC Universal's choice to turn Esquire into a TV network. "When you think of Esquire, you think of the magazine, but when you turn on the TV there's reality shows and a James Bond movie," said Marc Morse, senior VP– national broadcast at Assembly. "Where is Esquire magazine? It feels like Spike."
But the breadth of Esquire's editorial could create opportunities. "It's not just style, it's not just fashion, it's not just travel, it's not just food, it's all of these things combined," said Mr. Essig.
Either way, Mr. Granger is not worried that the network's search for a hit will tarnish Esquire's 80-year-old reputation. "I've seen very little indication that they have the impulses or instincts that would take us into some weird canyon," Mr. Granger said.
The partnership has already led to "a couple thousand subscribers" to the magazine, according to Mr. Essig. The magazine has a rate base of 725,000.
As for Mr. Granger's idea for a TV show -- which he declined to share in detail because someone else might take it -- it's not completely dead. "I'm hoping we'll lay the groundwork in the magazine and on Esquire.com, and I'm hoping it will become a television event," he said.
But that's ultimately up to the network, he added. "I have a job and I don't want to be a TV programmer," Mr. Granger said. "It's nice to have the sort of vicarious experience of being in television instead of actually being in television."