Esquire, the magazine that has relied on the printed page for the last 80 years, is about to make a move into television.
On Monday, NBCUniversal will announce that it has concluded a deal with Hearst Magazines to rebrand one of NBC’s existing cable properties, the G4 network, as a new entity, the Esquire Network. The purpose: to refashion a cable channel that has been devoted to video gaming and devices into what NBC’s top cable executive described as “an upscale Bravo for men.”
Only last week, that executive, Bonnie Hammer, added Bravo — the network of “Real Housewives” and other female-centric lifestyle programming — to the portfolio of cable networks she oversees, so the juxtaposition is well timed. The Esquire Network will have its debut on April 22. It will be available in 62 million homes with cable or satellite service.
Neither side would discuss the specific financial arrangements, but said the renamed channel was not a joint venture. “We own G4,” Ms. Hammer said. “There are no ownership issues here.” David Carey, president of Hearst Magazines, the publisher of Esquire, said, “We have a strong interest in this succeeding.”
For viewers of the G4 network, the change will mean a sharp shift from the gaming-centered programming that attracted some men to shows that will draw an audience that NBC executives are persuaded Esquire stands for: “The modern man, what being a man today is all about,” as Adam Stotsky, the general manager of the new network, said.
Specifically, NBC is hoping to capture a more educated, affluent, sophisticated male viewer, who is not being served, as its research concluded, by the male-oriented, nonsports programming on cable channels like Discovery and Spike. “Much of today’s programming targets men in a one-dimensional way,” Mr. Stotsky said, with what he called “down-market shows” about “tattoos or pawn shops or storage lockers or axes or hillbillies.”
The Esquire Network will offer shows aimed at capturing other areas of interest, like cars, politics, world affairs, travel, fashion and cooking. David Granger, Esquire’s editor in chief, said he expected the programming to be “not duplicative of what readers find in the magazine, but in the same wheelhouse.”
Still, he said, there could be some crossovers. For example, “Funny Joke From a Beautiful Woman,” a feature Esquire has included on its Web site, could work as a piece between series, Mr. Granger said.
But Mr. Stotsky said his development staff would generate the program ideas. One of the network’s first original series is “Knife Fight,” a reality competition about “after-hours cook-offs” among young chefs.
The other original series is a travel show featuring celebrities called “The Getaway.”
Neither of those ideas originated in an editorial meeting at Esquire, but as Mr. Carey said, “This is not the magazine on TV; that would not work. The idea is to capture the essence of the magazine.”
Ms. Hammer called that the magazine’s brand. She said NBC had been aware of the limits of G4’s programming niche.
“Realistically, guys who are into gaming are not necessarily watching television,” she said. “If this was going to come under my portfolio, I’m a little brand crazy, so I said, let’s create a real brand, define a space, understand who we are programming for.”
Mr. Stotsky was responsible for seeking potential partners, and after some early discussions with Mr. Carey and Mr. Granger, an alliance with Esquire quickly gained traction.
Mr. Carey said that Hearst Magazines was “very focused on partnerships.” He pointed to its success in creating magazines tied to cable channels like the Food Network and HGTV.
Beyond the two original shows to be announced on Monday, the new channel will be filled in the short run with acquired programs — many, Mr. Stotsky said, from the library owned by NBCUniversal.
Two comedies that will appear are in the category of more sophisticated recent comedies, he said. One, “Parks and Recreation,” is owned by NBC and still on the broadcast network. It will get its first cable exposure on the Esquire Network.
The other, “Party Down,” about young caterers, achieved some cult status when it played on the cable network Starz three years ago.
That may mean that the actor Adam Scott, who stars in both shows, is something of the ideal for the Esquire Network. Mr. Stotsky said the channel is hoping to rely on the magazine’s “80 years of insight into what makes men tick.” He added, “When you look at Esquire as a print magazine, it’s really about a point of view, a way of life, telling intelligent witty stories.”
Mr. Granger said the magazine had survived both the media shift from print to digital and the recent recession, even managing to increase its circulation figure, to about 725,000 a month, in December. This was accomplished, he said, by creatively expanding onto digital platforms including Web site and tablet applications. The median age of the magazine’s reader in the last several years falls in the range of 38 to 40 years old, he said.
Mr. Carey said current circulation figures alone should not reflect the brand’s value. “It’s a funny thing about magazines,” he said. “The population of people who know and respect and see a particular magazine brand as an authority is usually much bigger than the audience of the actual magazine. I believe NBC saw the opportunity that the built-in awareness and respect for Esquire was multiples of the actual magazine audience.”
Mr. Carey said he “absolutely saw only an upside” for Esquire. “As we’ve seen from our other ventures, when you have both print and television working together, it clearly lifts all boats.”
Source: New York Times, 2/10/13