August 31, 2007
NBC Acquires Sparrowhawk: Conglomeration Marches On, But Where's the Brand Going? (1 of 2)

Yesterday NBC Universal announced that it acquired Sparrowhawk Holdings, a global portfolio of cable television channels that will give NBCU a greater presence in markets in the US, Europe, Latin America, and the Middle East with the Hallmark Channel.

Although the exact amount of money changing hands was not disclosed, one report put the figure around 175 million pounds, or just under $353 million. As you may have read in my post earlier this month about New Site, the joint venture between NBC and FOX to create a legal aggregator video streaming site for their content, Providence Equity Partners also has a 10% stake, worth about $100 million, in that project as well.

Why is this significant?

On Tuesday, NBC Universal issued a press release with a statement from relatively newly-minted President and CEO , Jeff Zucker, about how important the acquisitions are for the company's strategy to increase its international presence.

In the same release, he went on to say, "Our combined assets will now allow us to build leading global brands and create scale in the international marketplace...[t]he Hallmark Channels' geographic breadth is of particular importance to us, as it will bolster our position in existing markets and boost our growth."

In other words, the brand strategy behind the new acquisition, and for NBC generally, is more about building individual channel brands globally, rather than the NBC brand worldwide. In so doing, I would argue that NBC is making a key strategic choice that is indicative of the fragmenting nature of audiences, and putting itself somewhere between a conglomerate like C3 partner Turner, with more of a stable of international channel brands than a global network brand in its own right, like the BBC. By not building an overarching NBC brand, there may be lost opportunities to build loyalty to it's properties, and possibly fallout in other channels.

Admittedly the BBC/Turner distinction is not black and white, but the overall approaches are quite different. The BBC does have a joint venture with Animal Planet in the US, which runs programming produced by the BBC, but does not carry the BBC brand. Likewise, Turner also owns channels, Turner Classic Movies, for example, that carry the Turner name.

However, the BBC is an internationally recognized brand that it can use to market content and cable networks internationally, that is synonymous with Britain and a high perceived quality of the content. Turner, a company that grew up in the era of cable and satellite TV, has always had a strong focus on building the reputation of individual channel brands, like CNN.