Bravo stretches, adds viewers & advertisers

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Jeff Gaspin used to view the Bravo cable network as the home for opera, ballet and other "crusty" fare. Now his job is to change that perception while not abandoning Bravo's artsy tradition.

Mr. Gaspin is president of Bravo and exec VP-alternative series, long-form and program strategy at NBC Entertainment. General Electric Co.-owned NBC brought the cable channel into the fold late last year for $1.25 billion and began a makeover.

Bravo, at 70 million subscribers and growing, is stretching the definition of its appointed genre-arts and entertainment-and has begun to leverage that often-nebulous idea of synergy with its broadcast-side parent. Bravo has carried repurposed content from NBC, such as "Kingpin" and "Boomtown," and will also introduce a slate of new original shows this summer. This new content includes "The Queer Eye for the Straight Guy," in which gay men will advise fashion-challenged straight guys, and "The Reality of Reality," a five-part series on the phenomenon of "reality" TV. Next year, Bravo will introduce the five-part "The Greatest TV Characters of All Time," among other programs.

Such additions expand Bravo beyond its somewhat highbrow reputation, but also raise the question of how the channel is evolving under NBC's umbrella and whether it could end up as a cable redux of the broadcast network.

By numbers from Nielsen Media Research, the evolution seems so far to appeal to viewers and advertisers since Bravo increased its 25-54 audience 13% in prime time in April vs. a year ago.

When NBC acquired Bravo, the cable network had plateaued and was at a growth crossroads -its choice was to remain an arts and entertainment destination or broaden its mission, Mr. Gaspin says. The decision was made to do both.


"The Queer Eye," for instance, plays into the reality-makeover trend, but the Bravo twist is to do the show with gay men styling straight ones. "We don't want to become low rent with the programming we do," Mr. Gaspin says. "We don't want to become common."

Access to NBC programming makes the cable property more desirable, says Fred Dubin, managing partner-national broadcast director at WPP Group's Mediaedge:cia, New York. "The bottom line is it makes [Bravo] a more attractive sell, and they are in a different league now as part of the NBC family."

The partnership also helps bolster NBC's position as the most upscale of the broadcast networks and renders Bravo more accessible to viewers, says Stacey Lynn Koerner, exec VP-director of global research integration at Initiative Media, Los Angeles, part of the Interpublic Group of Cos. "The content seems more attainable with viewers because of its association with NBC and less very focused like you would have with a PBS audience. It's kind of been perceived as a `Masterpiece Theatre' kind of audience, and the perception is that there is more there to offer," she says.


However, Mr. Gaspin wants to craft an identity for Bravo that doesn't render it into an NBC2. The shared shows are in a similar league, he says. After all, Bravo isn't carrying NBC's "Fear Factor." Repurposed NBC content will only be a small fraction of Bravo's fare. Mr. Gaspin also said at Bravo's pre-upfront presentation in New York he'd like to develop two original telefilms for next season, with one to premiere on Bravo and then run on NBC and the other to debut on NBC and move to Bravo.

With only about six months of NBC ownership under Bravo's belt, it's too soon to quantify the full potential of the adoption for either party. Bravo will offer new enticements to advertisers when "organic and appropriate," says Hanna Gryncwajg, senior VP-ad sales. The network this year had a product placement deal with Revlon.

Bravo expects to bring a number of new advertisers on board and has seen increased interest from the auto, film and retail categories through the association with NBC, she says. New Bravo advertisers include Citibank, eBay, TD Waterhouse, UBS PaineWebber, Moen and Beiersdorf, but those deals were in the works before the ownership change.

Anytime a cable net comes under the auspices of TV's "most powerful brand," audience interest and thus advertiser interest will grow, says John Rash, senior VP-director of broadcast negotiations at Interpublic's Campbell Mithun, Minneapolis.

The remade Bravo has a great chance at success, says Lauren Zalaznick, president of digital popular-arts channel Trio. But since Bravo is still a cable network, it must clearly focus its offerings. "In cable you need to sell a clearly defined environment," she says, "or you won't get a snapshot of your audience that's sellable to advertisers."

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