I'm sure many of you are facing a version of this dilemma right now.
Yours is an aging brand, with a loyal but less desirable demographic who clings to the status quo. They enjoy the classics – especially from the biggest stars – and they never seem to tire of them, no matter how often they come up in rotation. And did I mention, they hate change.
But there's pressure from sales and corporate to deliver more sales-friendly demographics. Your mission is to attract more younger people, but you don't want to alienate any of your diehard fans in the process. After all, they spend a lot of money, they've been with you for decades, and they're your core.
And to make it more challenging, streaming platforms are beginning to eat your lunch, eroding your once comfortable position – and they don't feature personalities or lots of talk – just one great classic after another.
So, how to make changes to the brand without causing panic among your meat and potatoes fans?
You could modernize the logo and the production, make your veteran hosts look and talk more contemporary, and ask them to provide more curation to your classic content. You might even come up with a new slogan – something catchy like “Where then meets now” to connect the past to today in an effort that might bring in some younger consumers, without pissing off the old guard.
And you could also go deeper into your library, storytelling about how some of the greatest classics were made and why they matter.
And maybe it would somehow work. But chances are, knowing your audience, your master plan could hit a pot hole. Or maybe even a sink hole.
That's because when you mess with the classics – especially if you don't respect them – there's often hell to pay.
Can you think of a radio station that's going down this road? Very likely, you can, because the scenario I described is what many Classic Rock stations are facing.
But the classic brand trying to give itself a facelift without anybody noticing isn't a radio station – it's a cable TV network.
TCM – Turner Classic Movies.
It's been a successful cable TV franchise since Ted Turner launched his eponymous classic move channel himself way back in 1994, attracting a loyal – and vocal – audience. TCM is now owned by AT&T which bought Time Warner in 2019, and there's obviously pressure from the top to make over the brand.
And everything I described earlier in this post is, in fact, happening as TCM undergoes its transformation it hopes finds younger viewers without alienating the base. The logo has been revamped (bottom right), and the hosts – including veteran Ben Mankiewicz – will be doing more curating, taking a more active role in providing context to TCM's library.
The refreshed TCM will also feature special programming in an effort to keep the content classic, but also contemporize it.
A new show, Reframed, is guaranteed to get attention. It takes a new look at old films, like Breakfast at Tiffany's, which has recently come under fire for its take on sexuality, race, and gender.
TCM calls it looking at classic films with “contemporary eyes.” Fans of the channel aren't as upbeat about this “refresh” on their favorite channel.
As you can see (left), Maggie from Boston isn't buying it.
In fact, of the more than 300 comments that accompanied Dave Itzkoff's review of the new TCM in The New York Times, the vast majority come from disgruntled and/or fearful fans, many of whom are worried about the fate of their precious channel.
That sums it up for Scott Bishop (right) from Knoxville who wants no part of any of it. TCM may have tested its new look and approach in some type of research format, but its core fans are obviously skeptical.
I've heard the same sentiments in focus groups for Classic Rock stations where fans fret change, resisting any efforts by management to mess with the formula.
In the same way TCM fans revere icons like Gable, Hepburn, and Tracy, Classic Rockers feel that same sense of connection to Zeppelin, the Stones, and Queen.
That's because classic movies and Classic Rock songs aren't just cinematic or musical works of art – they represent a precious piece of our lives. People vividly remember they saw The Maltese Falcon on that first date, or heard “Hotel California” playing on the radio when they met the love of their life or first set foot on their college campus.
When you're playing with the giants in any field, it doesn't take much to spread discord among the loyals.
Of course, as we've learned in radio, fans may have a voice, but ultimately, it's management that makes the calls. And if fans don't like it, they can stop listening…
…and find another station in town or online, or pay a few bucks a month for satellite or a streaming service.
Will the TCM audience eventually calm down and roll with these changes? Management certainly hopes so, as they plot the continuing strategic journey of their aging cable channel.
Meanwhile, this rather innocent TCM video on Twitter was met with snarky pushback from fans and even some critics:
— God gave Rock n Roll to you ✝️🤘 (@WrenchSwinger06) August 26, 2021
Maybe there's a lesson for radio execs thinking about messing with a good thing. Or maybe the wizards running TCM might be onto something here.
Nevertheless, TCM might end up being that canary in the pop culture coalmine.
Watch this space.
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