POSITIONING CTV: Comedy Television

aka Comedy Central 1991

THERE ARE TWO KINDS OF POSITIONING: Descriptive and Aspirational

DESCRIPTIVE POSITIONING DEFINES AN EXISTING SITUATION. Examples: Avis was #2, and (at least theoretically) already was trying harder before they came out with that position. 7-up didn't reformulate to become the "Un-cola". The position merely described what the product already was.

ASPIRATIONAL POSITIONING DEFINES A GOAL FOR A PRODUCT OR COMPANY. Examples: MTV positioned itself as "MTV vs. normal TV" before the channel even got off the ground. The positioning served as an aspirational yardstick for everything MTV did, from advertising and programming to staffing and acceptance of paid advertising. FOX's position was that it wanted to become the 4th broadcast network. It was a long term goal that could not be accomplished overnight. But it provided everyone at the company with a clear sense of purpose. It gave a certain savvy section of the public someone to root for. And, after careful selection of material and development of new product, it bore fruit. They never would have made it without the position.

WHAT TO BE AND WHAT NOT TO BE--THAT IS THE QUESTION. An aspirational position should answer this question: What can we become that will be successful, generate excitement inside our company as well as in the world, and be as valid ten years from now as it is today? Aspirational positioning is especially helpful when the "product" doesn't yet exist, as is the case with CTV. It is not intended to determine specific programming questions, like whether to do a weekend of all stand-up or a Lucy marathon, but it could help point in the right general direction. It does not have to be true now in order to be appropriate, as long as it is something we could legitimately work toward.


Let's pause for a quick look at history...

THE HISTORY OF TELEVISION IS COMEDY. From its earliest days as an entertainment medium, TV has been dominated by comedy. While there have been successful dramatic shows, TV's benchmarks are, and will always be, Milton Berle, Lucy, Sid Caesar, Gleason, Dick Van Dyke, The Smothers Brothers, Laugh-in, Mary Tyler Moore, M*A*S*H*, All In The Family, Saturday Night Live, Cheers, Cosby, Rosanne, The Simpsons etc....

THERE'S COMEDY EVERYWHERE. Viewers don't need more comedy on TV because they have it. They've always had it. They always will have it. All the broadcast channels, and nearly every cable channel programs some comedy every day. But so far nobody IS comedy.

WHAT CAN CTV OFFER VIEWERS THAT THEY CAN'T GET EVERYWHERE ELSE? Comedy round the clock? Yes, but that's a basically passive claim. The home for comedy? Sounds like a retirement community. (Where comedy goes to die.) The first stop for comedy? Fine, but why? How do we give CTV the sense of energy that you find with say, MTV or CNN? Maybe we need to ask a bigger question...


Let's pause for another look at history...

THE HOTHOUSE EFFECT Now and then in the history of show business, time, resources, talent, and vision fortuitously come together to form hothouses of creativity. MGM studios in the 30s and 40s is one example. Disney Studios in the 40s and 50s is another. Motown in the 60s and Saturday Night live in the 70s are two more recent "hothouses" All of these emerged from relatively humble beginning and became creative factories where exceptional talent could be discovered and thrive. They were places where people who were passionate about movie making, or animation, or music, or live TV comedy, were eager to come to work often for peanuts --they were drawn to these places because there was an aura about them of being "the" place where their dreams could come to life.

WHAT WOULD COMEDY CENTRAL BE? CTV should see itself as encompassing all of TV comedy's past and future. The place where TV comedy lives, in the form of classic shows, new shows being created, new talents being discovered, and eventually new venues being explored (i.e. feature films, Broadway shows, who knows?) Like FOX becoming the 4th network, this will not happen overnight. Like MGM, Disney, Motown and Saturday Night Live, it will mean slowly building a consumer following around the talents that CTV has nurtured.

CTV COULD BECOME THE TELEVISION COMEDY HOTHOUSE OF THE 90's... "COMEDY CENTRAL." Before we laugh that off as being too grandiose, let's look at what we have going for us. Time: This is a time when cable is ascending and the broadcast networks are on the wane. (CNN is already assuming a prominent role in TV news.) Soon virtually all American households will have cable, and the distinction between broadcast and cable will blur until it disappears completely. Resources: CTV is beginning life with a fair amount of publicity, thanks to the war between HA! and the Comedy Channel. It is the offspring of the most credible, successful parents in the basic (MTVN) and pay (HBO) cable businesses. It has the combined financial and subscriber bases of the two, plus an impressive programming roster to choose from. Talent: The hottest new talents would spark to this positioning if it were properly expressed to them. More established talents would be intrigued and would gravitate to us as time goes by. Vision: The sky's the limit.

TWO ROLE MODELS: COMPARE AND CONTRAST ESPN is a cable channel with no vision and very little energy. All they do is put sports on TV. Not the top sporting events (they can't get them) or the most complete, incisive coverage of sports--just sports. If they started the ESPN play-by-play Institute to teach sport casters how to do better commentary, people would laugh. ESPN is unlikely to ever become "the world's place for sports." CNN, on the other hand, positioned itself as the world's place for news. They opened bureaus and placed equipment in tiny burgs around the world. At first, people were skeptical of CNN's vision. But now we're all watching live CNN feeds from Baghdad, the Secretary of Defense cites CNN as giving the best coverage of the Persian Gulf war, and the broadcast networks are interviewing CNN reporters on their air. CNN has, in fact, become the world's place for news. CTV has a little-known studio which can literally be the "hothouse" where talent and material can be nurtured. Comedy fans (read: everybody) will be rooting for a channel that not only gives them great comedy round the clock, but also is growing it from within. It is the only channel that actually could become the "mythic visionary" of TV comedy.

SUMMARY CTV is in a unique position to become the MGM Studios of television comedy. It can provide and develop every type of comedy for every taste. It can build and nurture fresh new material and talents. It can be Comedy Central, a home for everything from the solo stand-up to the next Ghostbusters. What would Comedy Central mean?


Comedy Central would win support and patience from the public. It would place CTV in the role of pioneer, instead of just being one more cable channel vying for attention. It would make CTV a channel to watch, regardless of what you might see any specific time you tune in.


Comedy Central means that CTV would be a focused channel with vision. A focused channel with vision translates into an exciting place on the dial--and therefore an additional lure for new subscribers.

WHAT COMEDY CENTRAL WOULD MEAN TO THE PRODUCTION/CREATIVE COMMUNITY. Comedy Central would attract adventurous young talent. It would represent a chance for freedom and experimentation for more established talent. With careful development of material, it would eventually become the place to be for anyone working in comedy.

WHAT COMEDY CENTRAL WOULD MEAN TO CTV. Comedy Central would build pride and energy within the company. It would give ad sales, marketing, on-air promotions, and programming a horn to blow and a target to aim for. And--if the history of television tells us anything--with luck, vision and hard work, Comedy Central would succeed.

Assignment: POSITIONING MTV: MUSIC TELEVISION Agency: Fred/Alan Inc. Year: 1987 Positioning document written by Alan Goodman MTV: Music Television was my first employer in television and a great example of positioning by intuition. With good and focused leadership from Bob Pittman, those of us on staff all knew what we were and what we were doing. Years after the 1981 launch, with long-form successes like "Remote Control" there was a move afoot to mess it up by claiming that the audience was "bored" with music videos, repositioning MTV away from music and more as a lifestyle service. Additionally, a shift to a second generation of management had taken the initial gut instincts that built the joint and hardened them into inappropriate "rules" that were brandished like capricious swords at new employees' heads. So, the challenge was to create a position that: 1> formalized the intuition that let some people claim that they "got MTV" to support whatever personal opinion they had at the moment. 2> would take into account the evolution of the network into longer form programming. 3> gave guidance to creative decisions, business decisions so they would be consistent with, and build further, the network’s brand character. I think you’ll find, with some exceptions, the document holds up pretty well, and that MTV pretty much follows it to this day.


July 17, 1987

Introduction To recap something we all learned long ago: "positioning" a product means finding a place for it -- a hole -- in a prospect's mind. A place we can claim that competitors cannot. There are many reasons why we may want to be "the entertainment source for young America." Or "a non-stop party." Or a million other things. But these aspirations are ours, not our consumers. We must remember to look inside the consumer's head. And to successfully position a product for minds everyone else wants to occupy in the age of overcommunication, it must be a simple message. Often, positioning a product is easier when that product has competitors -- Avis "tries harder," Lite Beer is "everything you want, and less," 7-Up is the "uncola," etc. But MTV is "Music Television," and nothing else is. So MTV has no competitors. Right? Wrong!

The Environment Defines the Competition MTV exists in an environment where there is more choice available than ever before. Cable television. Often, cable programmers try to draw a distinction between cable and broadcast. Cable means choice and modernity, broadcast means less choice and tradition. But these programmers identify the environment in their terms, not consumers' terms. More and more, the difference between broadcast and cable will blur in consumers' minds, and for our children, who will never see a TV dial and won't know the limitations of the VHF 2-13 band, the distinction may not exist at all. WTBS is shows, just like Channel 2. So is USA Network and Lifetime. And when the Pay services show movies you don't want, they may as well not be there at all.

For real consumers, television is television. And there are certain things about television that MTV isn't. WATCHING TELEVISION IS: • • • • • Making a commitment (a half-hour -- or hour -- commitment). Putting up with the shows they feed you. Watching things that aren't for you (they are mass audience). Not listening to music. Predictable.

WATCHING MTV IS: • • • • • A small, or short, commitment. No shows. Or, a new show every three minutes. Watching something that's for you. Music. Reliable, not predictable.

Simplifying the Message We have to put all of these differentiating characteristics into a simple message. Because we can't list them all for consumers whenever we want to talk to them. And because they aren't all that meaningful to consumers, who never think about things like "commitments" when they hit the remote button. We need one word that instantly identifies us and our competition to our audience. We know what we are: MTV. So what is the competition, all those other TV channels out there? There is only one word to describe them: Normal. When programmers talk of "Miami Vice" as having MTV attitude, they mean "not like normal cop shows." When commercials are said to have and MTV look, it means disjointed, disconnected, musically-rhythmic but not linear or logical -- in other words, "not like normal commercials." It's

Normal TV vs. MTV

Normal TV and MTV Normal TV is boring. • • • • • • • • It let's you down. It makes you wait for what you want. It's never surprising. It all looks the same. It's for old people or my little brother. It's phony and hype-y. It's dumb and old-fashioned. It's not mine.

MTV is alive and looks interesting. • • • • • • • It's always there when I want it. Sometimes, it can really surprise you. They really do some different-looking things in the videos. It's for people like me. I can believe what they say. It's very up-to-date and state-of-the-art. It's my MTV.

Normal TV vs. MTV MTV is relief from Normal TV. • • • • • • • It's a quick break from Normal TV. It's mine, and Normal TV belongs to everybody. It's more stuff I like, and Normal TV is more stuff I hate. It's music, and Normal TV isn't. It's for people like me and my friends, and Normal TV isn't. It's cool, and Normal TV is dumb. It has "it," and Normal TV doesn't.

Normal TV or MTV. This simple statement provides MTV with a benchmark against which everything about and for the network can be judged; • • • • • • Programs Specials Promotions Contests Advertising Staffing

And it has value beyond promotion and advertising; • • • It supports and encourages MTV's fundamental strength as a risk-taker. It guarantees that MTV will never evolve into "normal TV." It is used as a common vision throughout the company to ensure that MTV will always deliver on this promise.

Advertising 1988 Campaign Objectives • • Increase network cume Build trademark value

Strategies • Use TV as the primary medium to generate awareness. -- point-of-purchase -- delivers message with sight and sound • Use TV Guide for show-specific tune-in advertising.

Tactics • Create advertising that asks the question -- "TV or MTV?" -- and answers with the line that is still valid -- "I want my MTV" -- within this re-defined context.

Results "We've had the best ratings year we've ever had, and in terms of the value of our trademark -- we've now been able to develop ancillary businesses." Bob Friedman Senior Vice President MTV Marketing

1989 Campaign Objectives • • Increase network cume. Build trademark value.

Strategies • Use a combination of TV -- to generate awareness plus Radio and Print -- for show-specific tune-in messages -- saturate the markets -- test media performance Tactics • • Create TV advertising that does a straight comparison of MTV vs. Normal TV. Create Radio and Print advertising that demonstrates the essence of MTV -- not-normal entertainment -- with show-specific end-tags.

Results "Unconventional approaches in unconventional times allow you to have low budget levels and yet break through with messages that people remember. Even when you are up against people spending considerably more dollars." Tom Freston Chairman MTV Networks

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