LOS ANGELES (AdAge.com) -- Why focus on chasing celebrities when you can create them yourself?
That was the branding philosophy that informed Comcast Entertainment's E! in 2005, when Suzanne Kolb joined the network as its chief marketing officer. At the time, the entertainment channel was heavily invested in news and documentary programming about celebrities, but had very few names it could call its own until "American Idol" host Ryan Seacrest joined "E! News" in 2006.
Then in 2007, shows such as "The Soup" with Joel McHale and Chelsea Handler's "Chelsea Lately" were joined by "Keeping Up With the Kardashians," launching the beginning of a successful talent-breaking formula that now has prime-time E! stars sharing headlines and tabloid covers with the same celebs covered by "E! News" and E! Online. This strategy was solidified in 2009, E!'s highest-rated year ever, with the addition of "Kardashians" spinoff "Kourtney & Khloe Take Miami" and "Kendra."
As the shows tracked the celebs' respective engagements, weddings and babies, the network saw record-breaking ratings and high volumes of tabloid ink to boot. From August 2009 to January 2010 alone, E! talent graced the cover of no less than 55 magazines.
"It was important that we expand the brand to some small degree so that we encompass not just Hollywood but pop culture," said Comcast Entertainment CEO Ted Harbert. "We tell the world we report on pop culture through 'E! News,' we celebrate pop culture through our specials, we make fun of it through Joel McHale and Chelsea Handler, and we also create pop culture, which is a very audacious thing to say. But the Kardashains are pop culture, Kendra [Wilkinson] is pop culture. These are the things people are talking about at the water cooler."
The growth has continued into 2010, with April recently becoming E!'s highest-rated month in its history, thanks to a new season of "Kardashians" and the debut of "Pretty Wild," which has already launched former model Andrea Arlington and her trouble-making daughters into the tabloid stratosphere. Ms. Kolb said the network's consistent branding, all marketed under the phrase "pop-u-lust," has helped E! attract its broadest swath of viewers yet.
|BY THE NUMBERS|
|E!'s ad revenue in 2009, according to SNL Kagan, its highest ever|
|Number of average viewers who tune in to new episodes of "Keeping Up With the Kardashians," making it one of the top 10 highest-rated original series on cable|
|Number of people who tune in every Friday night to see "The Soup," with more adults 18 to 49 and 18 to 34 than any other cable network in its timeslot|
E! also just celebrated its 20th birthday, a sign that the network could wreak more Hollywood havoc by the time it turns legal next year. "It's nice to think you could have new heights to the brand after all this time. It's great to feel like E!'s at a place where it's 20 years old and still growing," Ms. Kolb said.
Mr. Harbert expects E! to continue to find new areas of growth as long as celebrity news and journalism continues to be a cultural mainstay.
"If you had told me eight months ago that Tiger Woods' infidelities would be the biggest story of the day for a network like E! as well as NBC News and CNN, I'd say you're crazy. If you go to work and talk about global warming and Afghanistan, you'll just cry all day. This group keeps delivering this kind of content because that's what people talk about."