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The Branding Game

30 Jan, 2014 By: Thomas K. Arnold

NBC's 'Ironside' remake

Brand equity, it has been written, is strategically crucial, but famously difficult to quantify.

Dish Network found that out the hard way through its purchase of Blockbuster Video, which it bought out of bankruptcy solely for the purpose of the “Blockbuster” brand name. Turns out, consumers didn’t care beans about Blockbuster — the iconic video rental chain was part of the past, gone, forgotten, buried, rather than a familiar friend to be forever associated with movies and entertainment.

Networks, too, are finding out, the hard way, about the vapor value of supposedly beloved brands. NBC brought back “Ironside” because it figured the 1970s crime show, with Raymond Burr, was still front and center in the hearts of TV fans. Not so. Few people younger than me even remember the show, and those who do vastly preferred watching the original on disc — thanks, Shout! Factory — instead of the reboot, which lasted all of four episodes.

And yet reinvention still seems to be the proverbial business plan that wouldn’t die. Movies continue to get remade, often with quite a bit of success. The Amazing Spider-Man reboot came out just 10 years after Spider-Man and became almost as big a hit as the original. The same thing happened with Batman Begins (2005) and Batman (1989).

One might argue that in the case of the superhero movies, they were all good films. But the “Ironside” remake wasn’t that bad, either, and the initial game plan for Blockbuster in the wake of the chain’s $320 million purchase by Dish seemed quite sound: if nothing else, it gave the satellite company a brick-and-mortar presence to promote its service.

In the end, though, I suppose it all gets down to giving consumers what they want, what they need, what they’ll spend good money on. Consumers had left Blockbuster, and filed away the chain’s name in their brains under “nostalgia,” long before its purchase by Dish.

Similarly, the “Ironside” remake might have been a pretty decent show, but it simply wasn’t what people wanted to watch at that time — a fate the network probably realized in mid-January when it scrapped plans to reboot another old crime TV show, “Murder, She Wrote,” which had been announced amid much fanfare the previous fall.

In the music industry, there’s an old phrase that holds, “It’s not the singer, it’s the song.” In truth, sometimes it’s both — and sometimes, it’s neither.

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