Strategy & Marketing

Growing Out of a Niche – The Cartoon Network and Syfy

An important principle of branding is starting by becoming the best you can be in a well defined niche. In starting a screenwriting career for instance, stop trying to be the best overall screenwriter in Hollywood, and focus on being the best writer of suspense thrillers or romantic comedies. It’s much easier to begin where there’s less competition. It’s the same for any field – start in a niche, be the best there, and then grow.

Two interesting recent examples on a corporate level are The Cartoon Network and The Science Fiction Channel.

The Cartoon Network started as a 24/7 cartoon channel. They established their brand in that very tight niche, and now, having won that battle, are growing. This year, they’ve announced that for the first time they’ll be producing live-action programming as well. The new “SyFy” brand represents something similar for that channel. Starting as a tight niche programming science fiction content, they’re now producing reality programming and reaching out into women’s programming.

Had those two channels started out producing every type of programming they would have been lost in a sea of cable channels.But once they established themselves as leaders of their niche, they built the recognition, perception, and brand power to grow beyond.

Whatever you start – a business, church, nonprofit, or even when it comes to your own personal career – consider being the best in the world at a tight niche as the first step.

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  1. Hmmm… I’m on the fence with this one. I have no problem with expanding but if it is contrary to your brand, should you do it anyway?

    IMO – if you call yourself CARTOON Network, then you should probably stick with playing cartoons.

    Same with Syfy. How many time have we all said or heard “I remember when MTV played music”.

    If your not careful, I think it can cause a backlash and you might loose your audience.

  2. Agree with the niche markets – yes.  As a die-hard sci-fi fan I think the SyFy channel screwed up. Does anyone else see “See-Fee” when they read the new name?  When did wrestling become sci-fi?  I read a lot of the respones to the change on their website and it was overwhelmingly negative.  Does not look like they have  noticed or heard yet at the corporate level.  As I stated before, I am a die-hard Sci-Fi fan and I am not happy but will remain open-minded.

  3. All good comments.  However my issue is the ABILITY to grow out of the brand.  There are plenty of times you should STAY in the niche, but starting there allows you the recognition and velocity to grow out if it’s the right thing to do…

  4. Dean, you have a point, but even a lot of those people who say, “remember when MTV played music” are still watching MTV – and MTV branched out successfully with their MTV2, allowing them more freedom with the programming on their flagship network.

    Syfy has been subtly altering their approach, adding more fantasy and reality programming, generally keeping to their core audience (with the exception of wrestling, at which point I think they either lost their minds or kowtowed to the NBCUi heads of state).

    And Cartoon Network is also shifting their brand to the CN logo, much like Kentucky Fried Chicken has moved into KFC, opening new realms, allowing them to broaden their horizons into live action.

    But back to Phil’s point – starting in a niche and becoming the best you can at that niche opens up so many more doors than trying to be everything to every man right off the bat.

  5. I remember in a television production class back in the mid eighties…. the assignment was to come up with a “niche” satellite channel…… we came up with the Oldies Comedy channel… nothing but Laurel and Hardy, Marx Brothers, 3 Stooges, Ma and Pa Kettle, W.C. Fields, Our Gang, Charley Chaplain, and all those old silent and not so silent comedies…. 24 hours…… then we took silent votes on the channel that most people would watch, it won hands down….. I’m so surprised no one has attempted such a channel…  ONLY oldies, ONLY Comedies, all the time…….  🙂

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