TV Surf Report: Branding In Basic Cable Is A Lot Like Playing Monopoly, So Which Network is Boardwalk or Park Place?


Santa Monica, CA — Branding in Basic Cable is as Easy as Playing Monopoly.  You know what you are going to get when you advertise on MTV (teens), Lifetime (women), BET (African Americans), Food Network (Foodies), and SyFy (fanboys).

However, other networks like AMC and FX are qualitatively far and above in terms of their original programming, but their Brands are not as easily definable. In some cases, a network has a great Brand, but weak programming and poor social engagement. In other cases, a network has great programming but not unifying Brand.

Basic Cable:

A Lot Like A Monopoly Board


AMC is riding high with the megahit, The Walking Dead.  It’s slogan, Something More, delivers on its programming. Yet, it is not easy to say what an AMC series is other than something out of the ordinary and possibly about Zombies.

  • Signature SeriesThe Walking Dead, Fear The Walking Dead, Preacher, The Son
  • Demo: 18-54;
  • Twitter: an impressive 694k. The Walking Dead has 1.61 million followers. Preacher has only 128k.
  • Notable DevelopmentDietland adaptation of Sarai Walker’s novel; an adaptation of John Le Carre’s novel, The Little Drummer Girl, from the Night Manager producing team and starring Alexander Skarsgard in a 6-episode miniseries.


FX is a creative destination for Hollywood producers because of its distinctive programming which includes The Americans, Atlanta, Fargo, American Horror Story, Archer, American Crime Story, and Feud.

It’s Branding slogan is Fearless, and FX certainly lives up to that goal.

  • Signature SeriesThe Americans, Atlanta, Fargo, American Horror Story
  • Demo: 18-54;
  • Twitter: a surprisingly weak 167k. AHS, though has 1.75 million followers. Fargo, though, only has 130k. And, The Americans has a mere 91k followers.
  • Notable Dev: Mayans, a spin-off of Sons of AnarchyAmerican Crime Story: The Murder of Gianna Versace, and Katrina.


Lifetime owns the Television for Women Brand, but is it delivering anything noteworthy other than multiple versions of the successful Project Runway franchise it nabbed years ago from Bravo?

  • Signature SeriesProject Runway, Women In Jeopardy MOWs
  • Demo: Women, 18-54
  • Twitter: 305k followers; Project Runway has only 334k followers. For such a strong Brand, there’s not a huge audience engagement for Lifetime series.
  • Notable DevelopmentFlint Water Crisis MOW should draw viewers, but what else is there to hang around to watch afterward? This is a network sound asleep at the wheel.


Bravo is noteworthy in basic cable for its Watch What Happens reality series like the uber-successful Real Housewives franchise. Its Brand seems to be Anyone Can Be On Television.

  • Signature SeriesReal Housewives Of Every City; Top Chef; Flipping Out; Vanderpump Rules; Watch What Happens Live
  • Demo: Women, 18-54
  • Twitter: A surprising 1.09m followers. The audience is engaged.  Real Housewives of Orange County has 252k followers while Vanderpump has 129k followers.
  • Notable Development: Likely more of the same. Andy Cohen has been re-upped for three more years.


SyFy uses the slogan It’s A Fan Thing, but its programming is narrow and geared towards Men (or is it?). Science Fiction is the most popular genre in the world, so why isn’t this cable network the most popular? B-Level Content. Poor Branding. No Buzz about its series. This network re-brands itself a lot. SyFy encompasses many sub-genres that this basic cable network does not serve well: Fantasy. Horror. Science Fiction. They own the Real Estate Brand, but other networks produce better Science Fiction content.

  • Signature Series is The Magicians. We’re Millenials With Magic Powers. Cult hit is The Expanse.
  • Demo: Men, Fanboys, 18-49
  • Twitter: Surprisingly weak 244k followers. The Magicians has a mere 52.9k while 32.9k followers. No Buzz.
  • Notable Development: Krypton, a prequel series to the Superman story. Tremors sequel remake starring Kevin Bacon. Adaptation of Night Flyers from George R. R. Martin.


Freeform was once called ABC Family, but has since been re-branded. Why? What did ABC achieve by distancing itself from its cable channel other than not competing with Disney Channel?

  • Demo: focuses on Becomers, an audience demo of 12 – 25; this is Blue Chip for Advertisers
  • Signature Series: Pretty Little Liars and Shadow Hunters.
  • Strong Twitter numbers: 728k. Pretty Little Liars has a huge following of 4.48 million girls (and boys). That’s big. Shadowhunters has an impressive 1.31 million followers.
  • Notable Development: Cloak & Dagger, a mixed race Marvel pairing; and, sequel series to PLL where a Liar goes to college; and Siren, a YA-adaptation about young mermaids at war. Also, a college spinoff of Black-ish.


MTV used to stand for Music Television, now it’s mostly reality shows and reboots of  the popular Total Request Live. Make no mistake, though. MTV is an international brand with multiple channels in all languages.

  • Signature Series: Total Request Live, Scream, Road Rules, The Real World
  • Demo: 14-34
  • Twitter: 15.8 million followers
  • Notable DevelopmentThe Floribama Shore reality series. Sticking to its brand of youthful, reality series a la The Jersey Shore, etc. Amazingness, a reality variety talent competition show.


USA  The largest, most general audience of Basic Cable is in dire need of a Brand other than “Cable’s #1 Network.” Lots of series with single male leads.

  • Signature Series: Mr. Robot, Shooter
  • Demo: 18-54 males. USA needs women.
  • Twitter: 238k followers while Mr. Robot has 485k followers but Shooter lags with 29.5k followers. The audience is engaged about Rami Malek but not about Ryan Philippe.
  • Notable DevelopmentWild Cards, an adaptation of a George R.R. Martin novel; American Rust, an adaptation of Philip Meyer’s novel about a Pennsylvania town sheriff dealing with crime.


BET is a player in Cable because it delivers a target audience to advertisers: African Americans. Yet, there is real competition from OWN which is more urban and more diverse in its programming. Black Entertainment Television is part of the Viacom portfolio.

  • Signature Series: Being Mary Jane (which concludes in 2018)
  • Demo: 18-54 African Americans
  • Twitter: an impressive following of 2.09 million. Being Mary Jane has only 99.5k followers, though. Hmm.
  • Notable Development:


OWN is The Oprah Winfrey Network. Oprah is most definitely a Brand unto herself which stands for Smart, Successful, Entrepreneurial, Topical, and Spiritual. Bet on Oprah. And, Oprah is a star-maker (Dr. Phil, Dr. Oz, Iyanla Van Zant).

  • Signature Series: Queen Sugar, Greenleaf, Tyler Perry franchises, Super Soul Sunday
  • Demo: 18-54 African Americans, Women
  • Twitter: 911k followers. Super Soul Sunday has an impressive 573k followers while Queen Sugar has 61k followers, but Greenleaf has only 38.1k followers, though.
  • Notable Development: A podcast of Super Soul Sunday just hit the App Store.


Comedy Central is also something of a Blue Chip piece of Real Estate in the Basic Cable Universe: You might not know its programming, but you know its star-making potential as evidenced by Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, Steve Carell, Samantha Bee, Amy Schumer, Key & Peele.

  • Signature Series: The Daily Show, Inside Amy Schumer, Drunk History
  • Demo: 18-54
  • Twitter: 1.56m;  The Daily Show has a whopping 7.08 million followers. This audience is engaged.
  • Notable Development:


Hallmark Channel considers itself The Heart of TV with its wholesome series like Cedar Cove and its numerous lineup of Holiday Movies (33!). This growing cable channel is clearly focused on Middle America and Women. Its parent company, Hallmark, is also going after Romance in a big way as its publishing arm wants emerging novelists: Write For Hallmark and Get Adapted

  • Signature Series: The recently concluded Cedar Cove which is based on Debbie Macomber’s novels and its Holiday Movie franchise. Here’s the Schedule of Christmas Movies
  • Demo: Women, 18-54
  • Twitter: A scant 151k. Not much buzz. Still, Advertisers know what and who they are getting here.
  • Notable DevelopmentChristmas in the Villa. You guessed it: Holiday movie.


E! brands itself as the Pop of Culture channel, but it might as well be Kardashian TV with its many incarnations of that reality series family, which celebrates its 200th Episode And A Look Back At That Sex Tape

  • Signature Series: Keeping Up With The Kardashians (just renewed for 3 years) and its spinoffs; The Royals
  • Demo: definitely Women, 18-49
  • Twitter: strong following of 3.86 million which demonstrates its buzzworthiness. Kardashians boasts 444k followers, while Kim K has 56.5 million followers (wonder how many are real!). The Royals commands 101k followers.
  • Notable Development: More reality shows and Kardashian spinoffs. Ugh.


N E X T   U P:

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About Surfing Hollywood

Steve La Rue is an internationally recognized leader in Film & Television with 20+ years experience as a Development Executive championing such series as Buffy The Vampire Slayer, The X-Files, The Simpsons, King of the Hill, Battlestar Galactica, and Farscape. He writes, blogs, and consults on All Things Entertainment from his home at the beach in Santa Monica, CA, where he balances his life by surfing every damn day.
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