Well, does it?
I asked myself that question when reading this post by Kay Reindl at Seriocity, where she argues among other things that cable networks are better at broadcast networks these days at branding themselves: “When I look at USA, I get exactly who they are and what they’re aiming for. When I look at NBC, I gotta say, I’m a little confused.”
It’s often said today that “branding” is less important than it used to be, because in the age of infinite channels and PVR and online viewing, people don’t watch networks, they watch shows. I sometimes think that’s true, and then again sometimes I don’t. The idea that people watch only individual shows and don’t care what network they’re on is not really consistent with the way people consume other forms of entertainment. People have their favourite websites to check each day (this one, maybe?), their favourite magazines to read each week (a-hem!) their favourite places to shop. Why wouldn’t at least some people have a favourite network? It doesn’t mean they’ll watch nothing but that network, any more than they’ll shop only at their favourite store. But it does make sense that, if they’ve seen a lot of shows that speak to them on one particular network, they’ll be inclined to turn that network on and see what they’ve got. Doesn’t mean they’ll like it. But just getting them to tune in is important.
You could argue that the vast number of channels has actually made it more necessary for broadcast networks to brand themselves. With only three networks, a network seemed less like a single self-contained entity and more like a big repository of TV shows, one of three. But now everybody has their own favourite specialized channels, and that means we’re in the habit of thinking of a television channel as something with a clearly defined purpose and type of programming. To keep up with this new way of thinking, a network needs to give itself at least some kind of identity, just to tell people: hey, watch us first. We’ve got the kind of stuff you like.