John Drinnan

Media writer for the New Zealand Herald

Happy Place rebrand under way

Love us, says Sky TV, as it plans to take viewer on a more exciting journey

Mediaeval fantasy Game Of Thrones is one of the SoHo channel's standout shows.
Mediaeval fantasy Game Of Thrones is one of the SoHo channel's standout shows.

"The Happy Place" wants to be more than an entertainment platform.

Sky TV - New Zealand's biggest media company - is moving to an integrated brand to cover all its products and services after nearly a quarter of a century of playing it by ear adding channels and brands to its line-up.

Sky has hired Sydney-based consultants at Interbrand - which created branding for its Igloo joint venture with TVNZ - to remould its overall image.

Research for the rebrand began 18 months ago.

Respondents saw the overall Sky brand quite removed from the actual content. The relationship is largely just the bill you get at the end of the month, says rebranding project manager Maureen Talpin.

"We want to bridge the gap to be ... a company that has got personality, heart and some attitude and not just a service provider."

That means bringing the main Sky brand to the fore.

Sky built SoHo and it wants to be "SoHo brought to you by Sky".

"We want to spell out (that) we don't just take a channel and put it down a pipeline, we select content and compile it," she said.

Chief executive John Fellet says the rebrand is much more than a change of logo and the new tagline.

It goes to the heart of Sky's approach to advertising and marketing.

"People send me notes saying thanks for bringing in SoHo and putting it on TV.

"But we did not bring it in. It was created here," said Fellet.

The Australian pay TV platform Foxtel has even bought the concept off Sky for its own premium drama channel, he says.

Whether the notion of channel design without local content has much kudos with consumers is unclear.

The company is moving away from being the Happy Place to developing an explorer theme with the tagline "Come With Us".

The explorer theme takes consumers through a complex line of channels and sub-brands.

Rebranding will include improved sports and movie packages, to increase interactivity.

CEO John Fellet says the rebrand is much more than a change of logo and a new tagline. Photo / APN
CEO John Fellet says the rebrand is much more than a change of logo and a new tagline. Photo / APN

There is also vague talk at Sky about increasing the level of local content.

But the notion that underpins most rebrands is central.

"We want people to love Sky," says Talpin, who has been involved with the project for 18 months.

Sky TV had 847,000 subscribers in December last year and is in about 52 per cent of New Zealand homes.

So it has a prominent position in the local branding landscape.

Senior lecturer in marketing at Auckland University Bodo Lang says that is an astonishing achievement.

The rebranding exercise coming to fruition is the biggest in New Zealand for a long time.

Sky launched its original form in 1989.

Subscriber numbers have grown in the past seven years, pushing staff from 150 to more than 1000, Talpin says.

The number of channels and brands has also grown.

Each year Sky adds new channels to the basic package - to discourage people from leaving.

Then there is an array of other brands such as MySky - arguably its most loved brand - and the emerging online service i-Sky.

Meanwhile, the main Sky brand has not kept pace and remains cold and impersonal. It has to be brought up to speed.

Advertising campaigns for Sky from DDB - a sister company of Interbrand - promoted Sky as "The Happy Place". Like most Sky commercials they have been popular.

But Talpin says it was never intended to be a full scale branding statement for Sky.

The Happy Place pitch is focused on Sky's role with entertainment.

Sky has to show it is more than a service provider and covers information as well as entertainment, Talpin says.

Sky has been cautious in investing in the blandishments of branding. It is expensive - and as the dominant pay TV operator with little competition - it has not needed to adopt an integrated strategy.

But according to Lang, subscriber uptake has slowed as it reaches a plateau of people who are likely to be customers.

Rebranding may be necessary with the first whiffs of competition from the likes of Coliseum, a company offering English premier league soccer, creating the first real chink in Sky's dominance of pay TV sports.

For many the big challenge at Sky will be maintaining the dominance of linear channels in pay TV rather than people using digital feeds to create their own channels from individual shows.

Ultra fast broadband will open the door to more downloadable content.

When it does take off, downloadable content will become indistinguishable from other television, says Sky communications boss Kirsty Way.

But both Way and Fellet stress that linear channels - like UKTV, Comedy Central or Jones - will be popular for the foreseeable future.


Strong position reduces risk for Sky rebranding

Sky Television faces fewer risks than most companies rebranding, according to Bodo Lang, a senior lecturer in marketing and advertising at the University of Auckland.

Lang says that the relative absence of competition in the pay TV market means that Sky is less likely to lose customers during its rebranding.

"Rebranding is really costly and a very risky thing to do because it goes to the heart of a firm," Lang says.

Existing subscribers are not going to change because it was a relatively technical product.

It is true that people have to like it and it is important that the new brand is strong, Lang says.

But the risks are not nearly as strong as they would be for another company which drew on an emotional reaction, like cars or perfumes, for instance.

"I think Sky are trying to expand the brand and bring it through to the 21st century.

"The rebranding will be aimed at new subscribers.

"They are hovering at 850,000 subscribers which is 52 per cent of New Zealand homes," he says.

"The uptake is plateauing because the people who are most likely to subscribe already have."

Sky will want to revitalise the brand and Lang expects the re-branding will be used to launch a new product the public has not seen yet.

"They might try to make it more of a consumer brand."

- NZ Herald

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