While Internet expeditions continue, magazines are getting more involved with radio, newspapers, merchandising. Some are even targeting motion pictures, such as the case of former New Yorker Editor Tina Brown's much-discussed, multimedia deal with Walt Disney Co.'s Miramax Films.
Still, publishers seem particularly fascinated by TV.
Magazines and TV can make strange bedfellows, however. Advertisers looking for package deals sometimes find there's little synergy between the print and TV sales efforts.
CONTENT HARD TO TRANSFER
Then, there's the matter of content, and the inherent difficulties in transferring a print product to the very different medium of TV.
"Historically, trying to make TV shows out of magazines hardly ever works," observes Kurt Andersen, co-founder of Spy and a former New York editor in chief who now writes for The New Yorker.
"Part of the reason they don't is people think, `Oh, this magazine's a success,' it has a brand name and a personality and that's just sort of the end of the thinking," he says. "It's like hiring a star for a movie without having a script."
Mr. Andersen, who has intimate knowledge of magazine/TV unions-Sussex Publishers' Spy had a hand in producing a couple of specials for NBC-points out that magazines and TV are dramatically different media.
"On the magazine side, it looks like free money-a brand extension, an easy way to promote the magazine," he explains.
"To TV people, it's, `Oh, here's an established idea.' So both have a tendency to look at it as kind of making their lives easier in some way, but not really consummating the marriage."
RATINGS CAN BE SMALL
While TV shows in theory provide mass exposure for a magazine brand, historically their ratings are relatively small, and publishers have no evidence the exposure makes a significant impact on circulation.
"Clearly, if one thinks of doing this as a means of building circulation, it's a very ineffective way to do it, from a cost standpoint," says Michael Berman, president of Hachette Filipacchi Magazine's Hachette Productions.
Truth be told, few magazines have conquered TV, but those that have offer brands which symbolize a lifestyle or world view that has reached beyond a monthly magazine.
Successes include National Geographic, Playboy, Sports Illustrated and, of course, Martha Stewart Living. That publication was one of the first brands to grow because of its multimedia synergy; properties now include not only a successful syndicated TV show but a series of videos, books, catalogs, and sheets and curtains from Kmart Corp.
ESPN put a twist on the concept when it launched an every other weekly sports title this year.
While such titles as GQ, In Style, People and TV Guide have lent their names to various TV specials over the years, series and magazine-based networks have a checkered history. Hearst Magazines' Redbook and Gruner & Jahr's Family Circle are two publications whose TV plans never got off the ground.
"Conceptually, it makes a lot of sense to try to build a brand in a competitive media marketplace," observes Michael Bebe, an analyst who follows the media business for Goldman Sachs. "But have we been able to tear apart the results and see the benefit on Wall Street? No. It's too small to identify as an independent business."
BRAND TOO FAR
While TV projects would appear to provide incremental value to a magazine enterprise, there's a danger that they can actually dilute a print property's strength.
"There are cases where a company took a brand too far and did either products or made licensing agreements that didn't make sense," Mr. Bebe says, stopping short of naming any examples.
Despite the questionable prospects, publishers keep flocking to TV. Out of the gate, one of this year's most hyped offerings hardly made the case for magazine/TV linkages.
When Time Inc. and CNN, both properties of Time Warner, teamed up to produce the news program "Newsstand," based on the titles Entertainment Weekly, Fortune and Time, it seemed like a logical match. An outgrowth of CNN's existing relationships with Time and Sports Illustrated, "Newsstand" would bring together a respected publisher with the world's preeminent cable news operation.
A ROCKY START
The venture got off to a rocky start in June, however, when editors were forced to retract a CNN/Time report about CIA-approved nerve gas experiments on American soldiers during the Vietnam War. The fiasco earned CNN and Time reams of negative news coverage, rankled media critics, led to the departure of two producers and provoked a $100 million lawsuit against the two news organizations, brought by a former Army officer whose picture was shown in the report.
Time Inc. executives characterize the incident as isolated, insist it had no impact on the relationship with CNN and continue to tout "Newsstand" as a model marriage of magazines and TV.
It may be too early to tell whether publishers looking to build a multimedia presence that successfully incorporates TV can do it, but advertisers often view it as a risky proposition.
DIRECT EXTENSION DIFFICULT
"The direct extension of a print property into TV is fraught with difficulties," says David Verklin, CEO of media-buying agency Carat North America, New York, which represents MCI WorldCom, Boston Market and Virgin Atlantic. "In some cases, a magazine brand doesn't extend easily into [other media]."
Meantime, the jury's still out on whether TV shows can actually boost newsstand and subscription sales. The exposure surely doesn't hurt readership, and some magazines even work subscription promotions into the programming. But publishers themselves admit circulation isn't likely to see any great impact as a result of TV spinoffs.
"This is in its infancy now," says Robert Geller, president of New York-based Robert J. Geller & Associates, a media buyer whose clients include Lancaster USA, marketer of Coty perfume. "Nobody really knows how to make the translation, and the potential audience is not big enough."
Over time, magazines could find success in TV, Mr. Geller predicts.
"The proliferation of cable channels and all kinds of other programming resources now make TV more like magazines-they're both specialized vehicles," he explains. "So, opportunities for translation are
probably going to be greater than they were in the past."
But most contend that magazines really don't have so much to lose by investing in TV.
"They could result in some wheel-spinning and some money and energy going down the drain [if they don't work], but there's not going to be any lasting damage," Mr. Geller says.
Mr. Andersen also believes a flop TV show isn't likely to hurt an established print product.
Steve Barlow, a media analyst for investment company CS First Boston, concurs that the money and time magazines are spending on TV programming "don't seem to be creating any black holes."
"If for some reason costs escalate, it's easy to get out and they're not likely to hurt their core brand," says Mr. Barlow, adding that he thinks magazines "need to do whatever they can to support their brands and create alternate ways to generate revenue."
On their face, magazine-based shows "are a good thing for advertisers," adds Allen Banks, exec VP-executive media director at Saatchi & Saatchi, New York. "You're building from a known perception, something you hope will transfer from one medium to another. When it doesn't fulfill a promise, that's a problem."
TV extensions are "a smart marketing choice" for magazines faced with increasingly fragmented media and consumers' growing lack of loyalty to any one medium and for advertisers looking for mass exposure, says Priya Narang, senior VP-media planning director of DeWitt Media, New York, which buys for BMW of North America, Discovery Channel and Rite-Aid Corp.
Print advertisers seem to have given these TV projects a warm reception. BMW, a loyal sponsor of Martha Stewart Living, enthusiastically supported the TV show that followed, according to Ms. Narang. Revlon apparently believes in the fledgling Woman's Day series, having signed a 26-week commitment. GQ's third annual "Man of the Year" special, airing this month on cable channel VH-1, got the backing of a number of the magazine's biggest advertisers, including Visa USA and Ford Motor Co.
While advertisers may envision cutting package deals, print and TV products aren't always sold jointly. Although some GQ sponsors bought spots during the magazine's TV special, VH-1 retained rights to sell the ads, according to Publisher Jack Laschever.
The publisher explains that the special represents "added value" for advertisers, and exposure for the magazine's biggest issue of the year. "Man of the Year" ad pages this year will surpass 300, he reports.
In the case of the CNN/Time partnership, advertising also is kept separate.
"[CNN] has consulted with us, and there have been joint discussions with advertisers, but we did not try to link ad time with magazine pages," says Entertainment Weekly President John Squires. Major print and TV sponsors include IBM Corp. and American Express Co.
BUYING INTO THE BRAND
Meanwhile, Hachette Filipacchi is selling the Woman's Day program, which premiered in August on the new Pax TV network in concert with the print product.
"They're buying into the brand to the extent that it can be transferred into [another medium]," Hachette's Mr. Berman says.
"They see it as a way to further reach the people who are reading the magazine, in addition to reaching TV viewers who may not currently be readers."
Times Mirror Co.'s Today's Homeowner and the weekly, half-hour syndicated show are sometimes pitched as a package as well, says Senior VP-Group Publisher Jason Klein. Print advertisers such as air conditioner marketer Lennox and tool company Ryobi also sponsor the TV program, launched in 50 cities last June and becoming available in 115 markets as of next month.
MAGAZINE MUST BE INVOLVED
Mr. Klein believes for a show to fly, it is essential that a magazine is involved in its production. In the case of Today's Homeowner, the magazine's editor in chief works on every episode.
The "Newsstand" shows borrow not only editorial features and graphic elements from the Time Inc. books on which they're based, magazine editors work with the TV producers and print journalists double as on-air talent.
Acknowledging upfront the differences between magazines and TV upfront is essential, many agree.
"The issue isn't putting a magazine on TV, but in doing it properly," Mr. Berman says, noting that a magazine's subject matter-in the case of Woman's Day, cooking, parenting, relationships and other so-called women's issues-must make sense in TV.
Adds Mr. Squires, "The pitfalls are in not getting the content right. It's not easy to make a successful TV program, and often what works in print doesn't necessarily translate to air. The danger is in not being true to your charter as a print publication-what you owe the readers of your magazine, you have to deliver [with TV]."