Numerous cable networks try to brand themselves to a certain audience in order to commodify a certain experience. Networks try to connect to the view through an identity development and expression by the carefully chosen shows, commercials, and posts via social media. I chose to focus on the cable and satellite network, Lifetime. Similar to Nickelodeon in focusing on a niche of viewers, Lifetime has from its inception been a channel geared towards women. Lifetime has created a brand culture that is focused on women that appeals to advertisers who want to market their products and services to women not only who have their income but also drive most purchasing decisions in households.
The overall programming seeks to give women want their want: shows that reflect their own lives and experiences and an escape from their own lives and experiences. The network features original programming, dramatic programs, and syndicated second-run series. Original programming includes several “reality-based” shows, including the Little Women series, which follows the lives of little women in several different cities, and The Rap Game, which shows young rappers competing for their big break in the entertainment business. One of their most popular programs is Project Runway, which has itself spun-off several related shows. Lifetime also shows movies geared to women, mostly made-for-television movies that have previously aired on other networks or have been produced for Lifetime, but also occasional features films. Lifetime has not only focused their content toward women, but has provided a media outlet for female lead roles, directors, writers, and stories: 73% of Lifetime’s original movies from 1994-2016 were directed or written by women (Goode, 2016). Thus, Lifetime has created a brand through forming a kinship network and “the language of the brand is maintained by personal narrative—lifestyle, identity, empowerment” (Banet-Weiser, 2007, p. 71).
Like Nickelodeon, Lifetime is also part of a media conglomerate portfolio. The Lifetime channel is part of Lifetime Entertainment Services, which is a subsidiary of A+E Networks, which is owned by the Hearst Corporation and Walt Disney Company. This suggests a political and economic strategy of the parent companies, Hearst and Disney, to have a television network geared to women to complement their portfolios of magazines (Cosmopolitan, Hearst) and children and family mass entertainment (Disney). This parallels the development of Nickelodeon as described by Banet-Weiser (2007) in which the brand of the network matters more than the content and appears part of “an ambitious marketing strategy that appropriates political (and personal) rhetoric about empowerment and agency to promote the network” (p. 72).
Lifetime updated their motto within the last couple of years to now read, “Your Life. Your Time.” This branding identity reflects how women value and experience their lives and their time. The mechanism they are using is that time is very valuable to women. Lifetime’s branding strategy is luring women to watch their network by suggesting they should be spending their free time watching their shows to connect with this kinship network of women. Their logo change in 2012 is also interesting. Prior to this the logo was the name of the network in a loose, flowing font suggesting a relaxed and comfortable channel. The current logo is a graphic that suggests the letter L and the Lifetime name is underneath the graphic in a modern font. The logo now suggests a more cool, more hip brand that is trying to distance itself from its former image of showing kitschy, low-brow movies.
The first example I found was on the Lifetime website. The image features 5 different women from their programs and under it says, “Binge watch your favorite shows!” This stuck out to me because the network was encouraging women to “binge” their shows, which commodifies a woman’s free time. At one end, the network is encouraging women to be independent by saying it’s YOUR life and YOUR time. Women have the freedom to do what they want with their leisure time. However, on the other hand, I can see how the Lifetime network is assuming women might not be busy. For example, possible housewives who have plenty of leisure time during the day to watch Lifetime. The network is primarily targeting white females. The ages can vary from younger girls to middle aged women based off of the content. In terms of lifestyle, Lifetime is trying to appeal to the white women who have the luxury of a lot of leisure time to watch the network.
It looks as thought Lifetime is trying to gain a more “Feminist” identity now. Something interesting I found on the Lifetime website was a section titled, “Fempire Diaries.” The title says, “Thank you to the women who create with us. Welcome to the Fempire.” Just this year, Lifetime announced the platform initiative to target fourth-wave feminists. The mission statement indicates, “Creating content for women, by women, about women.” The Fempire agenda is hoping to unify the network’s social networking partnerships to become a destination for women’s entertainment. On the other hand, even though the network is making efforts to create a feminist identity, many of their most popular shows don’t reflect those ideals. Their most popular shows are primarily their reality-based shows, Dance Moms, Project Runway, and various Little Women shows, while their most critically acclaimed shows are their dramas, including UnReal. From a political standpoint, reality shows are viewed as cheap and undervalued. These shows all reflect a “guilty pleasure” ideal for women to watch. But from a marketing perspective for companies and advertisers, they hope to use that guilty pleasure feeling to encourage consumption of their products and services. An examination of the commercials that air on Lifetime supports this. In general, the commercials appear to target women. Many of the commercials are targeted toward stay-at-home moms with numerous commercials for toys, diapers, womens’ and children’s clothes, and cleaning supplies and ads for animated movies.
The programming, corporate imaging, and commercial content shows how Lifetime has tried to create a brand culture through a kinship network that empowers women as consumers of their content as well as products and services that are targeted to women.
Banet-Weiser, S. (2007). The Nickelodeon brand: Buying and selling the audience.