In today's multi-channel, multi-platform world, it's increasingly difficult for television networks to lure viewers to their shows. To succeed and build an audience, on-network promotions just won't cut it.
So a growing number of networks are turning to a strategy that has done quite well for a very different type of media company, Rovio, the maker of the hit gaming franchise Angry Birds.
Angry Birds, of course, is everywhere. And that's part of Rovio's plan. To grow the Angry Birds brand and keep it top-of-mind with consumers, the Finnish company has made a concerted effort to ensure that Angry Birds isn't just a series of games.
Want to show your love for Angry Birds? There is clothing, toys and various accessories for that. And you don't need to go very far to purchase Angry Birds merchandise. Major retailers like Walmart, Best Buy and Target eagerly hawk it.
To be sure, merchandising is a big business for Rovio, which could go public next year at a multi-billion dollar valuation. But Rovio's CEO Mikael Hed doesn't stay up late at night worrying about Angry Birds knockoffs produced by companies that aren't official licensees. "If we can grow our fanbase, our business will grow," he's on record as stating, so as long as pirates make a quality product, Hed isn't angry.
Is Hed's approach to merchandising crazy? Television networks apparently don't think so. As detailed by AdAge's Jeanine Poggi, they're increasingly adopting Rovio-like merchandising strategies. From FX, which has produced show-branded products ranging from apparel to $25,000 motorcycles, to Fox, which has built a $2.2bn a year consumer products business, merchandising is a big focus.
But it's not just about the money. It's about creating consumer touchpoints. James Costas, HBO VP of global licensing, explains:
We see value in creating items that have more buzz rather than chasing revenue. We are doing things out of the box that's not just a T-shirt or a doll to create excitement.
While it's easy to express some skepticism over buzz-over-revenue strategies, the reality is that entertainment companies, in all their forms, face significant challenges competing in today's market. To build a long-lasting media property - be it a mobile app or television show - the core content arguably isn't enough. The content has to be treated like a platform on which to build a brand.
Not every attempt at doing this will be successful, of course. Angry Birds isn't successful simply because Rovio decided to sell t-shirts and plush toys. But increasingly, companies that get some traction in the marketplace will probably want to look at what Rovio has done with Angry Birds as an example of how to significantly extend the life of that traction.