AMC Networks is mindful that its We network has a predominantly female audience. But the company also recognizes there’s a broader crowd that might turn to the outlet if served the right fare.
Since 2001, when then-owner Cablevision Systems launched “WE: Women’s Entertainment” out of its Romance Classics cable network, We has been a female-focused media channel that vies with such competitors as Lifetime or Oxygen. Starting in October, its current owner, AMC, intends to operate it as a place for programming that can engage a wider audience from both genders – the kind who like eyebrow-raising series and talk about them on social media.
The new channel will retain its two-letter moniker, but jettison the overt references to women. “It will still remain a network primarily for women, but we don’t want to alienate men,” said Marc Juris, the network’s president and general manager and one of the architects who helped build reality-based truTV at Time Warner’s Turner out of the ashes of legal-themed Court TV. “When you call yourself, ‘women’s entertainment,’ even though we had gotten away from that, it’s still in people’s heads.”
AMC Networks move to change We is the latest in a recent spate of re-imaginings of some long-lasting cable outlets. A+E Networks intends to launch FYI by scrapping Bio in just a few weeks. Crown Media Networks will soon transform its Hallmark Movie Channel into Hallmark Movies + Mysteries. The maneuvers take place as advertisers are focusing more intently on media properties that can demonstrate audience growth at a time when more TV viewers are moving to watch entertainment via digital means.
Unlike those other networks, however, We already has a title that can be used to hook a bigger crowd, Juris said: “We had the best name, because of its relevance to this socially-networked world we are living in.”
Current We mainstays like “Braxton Family Values” and “Kendra on Top” have been renewed. But a new crop of programs on We seem less femme-centric and more for anyone who enjoys a taste of the outrageous. Consider “Sex Box,” a one-hour pilot the network has ordered based on a U.K. program in which couples have sex in a sound proof box, them meet with a moderator to discuss the act. Another new pilot, “Charlie Sheen’s Bad Influence,” will follow engaged couples to see how well they know each other. In one scenario, Juris described, a fiancée follows watches as her husband-to-be enjoys a bachelor weekend in Las Vegas.
The network has also begun to dabble in scripted series. In “The Divide,” which debuts in July, an advocacy caseworkers and a passionate district attorney vie for the fate of a death-row inmate. The network has also greenlit a series for “South of Hell,” a supernatural-themed drama that centers on a demon hunter in Savannah, GA.
We needs to grow audience to challenge some of its competitors. According to SNL Kagan, We costs distributors 12 cents per subscriber per month in 2013, when the network captured around $138.7 million in ad revenue. Meanwhile, Lifetime cost distributors 32 cents per subscriber and notched nearly $519.7 million and Bravo cost 24 cents per subscriber and took in $354.5 million in ad revenue.
Juris said he believes the most successful TV outlets these days have to recognize the communities they give rise to in the digital and social realms. “TV’s role now is not necessarily to entertain but to start a conversation,” he explained. “When you look online, it’s plain to me you see such passionate defense or protection of all these TV celebrities or shows. It’’s really because there’s this giant, border-less community of people who very passionately love or hate shows and certain media stars.”
We, which Juris took over in the fall of last year, has recently attempted to harness some of that dynamic. The network this season began following original episodes of “Mary Mary,” a show about musicians Erica and Tina Campbell, with something different: A repeat of the series that also has the two stars of the show watching the episode for the first time and reacting to it. Even old broadcast series that show up on We are getting an interactive redo: Viewers have been asked to “build” a binge-viewing of “Law & Order:” by selecting a weekly theme for a five-episode block on Tuesday nights.
New graphics for the revamped We will feature the two letters in a variety of ways, including as part of other words or phrases, like “PoWEr” or “WElcome Back.” Juris said the intent is to put the network’s name into messages that are relevant to viewers in specific instances.
For parent AMC Networks, the re-brand of We takes place after similar efforts at sister outlets Sundance and IFC. AMC recently changed its Sundance Channel to Sundance TV,the better to highlight a growing spate of original programs. In recent quarters, AMC’s financial results have been driven by ad sales at its flagship AMC network, home of top-rated drama “The Walking Dead.” By developing its other networks, the company is trying to reduce the burden on what it arguably its best known outlet.