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Ailing magazines could use a little help – from broadcast

Magazines are dying. Okay, you already know that, but stick with me here. New numbers released last week showed that newsstand sales of U.S. periodicals dropped 8.3 per cent in the second half of 2012; the overall circulation of Canadian magazines was also down. This Wednesday, even Time Warner basically admitted the jig was up when news leaked that it was looking to spin off most of its magazines into a separate company that would include monthlies owned by Meredith Corp.

And yet, some people in a similarly convulsive business apparently believe magazines still have something to offer. On Monday, NBC announced that G4TV, its little-watched cable channel that specializes in video-game-oriented programming, would be rebranded The Esquire Channel. Hearst's flagship men's magazine, whose tagline is "Man At His Best," may have a circulation of only a shade over 700,000, but it remains a classy, classic brand that still has value.

Which is why it's surprising how few other TV channels have hitched a lift aboard print vehicles. O (aka The Oprah magazine) was originally spawned by a TV show, but its success as a monthly (also under Hearst) helped convince Oprah Winfrey's Harpo Productions and Discovery Communications that her brand could hold up the standalone cable channel OWN.

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Lately, the brand expansions have been going the other way, largely led by Hearst. Its HGTV magazine, launched last year on the strength of Scripps Network's popular home renovation channel, already has a circulation of 940,000. The three-year-old Food Network magazine, another Hearst property that leverages a Scripps TV brand, is selling more than 1.7 million copies monthly.

Here in Canada, we usually bemoan the consolidation of the media industry. But if more companies were using their broadcasting assets to help the perennially ailing magazine industry, we might be able to forgive them some of their other sins. Heck, like Scripps pairing up with Hearst to the benefit of both, the TV companies could even promote magazines owned by other companies.

Rogers Media has been the most aggressive company in using its assets in one medium to promote those in another. The success of its Sportsnet regional TV channels and radio stations led to the launch a couple of years ago of the bi-weekly magazine of the same name. The company's tireless reporters are called upon to do double or triple duty by appearing on various platforms, smartly helping to strengthen the overall brand (if not, perhaps, their own health).

Last summer, Rogers deployed a similar strategy with something it calls Chatelaine Days on its morning TV show, Cityline. Editors from Canada's best-selling women's magazine appear on City's flagship program every month or so to offer guidance in fashion, health and fitness, food and Chatelaine's other popular franchise subjects. The magazine, meanwhile, spotlights Cityline in its pages.

Single-copy sales of the issues that have been featured on-air are up eight per cent year over year, according to Tara Tucker, Chatelaine's publisher. A direct marketing campaign had 35 per cent higher take-up than the previous effort, she added. "That really shows an immediate reaction to the [shows]."

Emboldened by its success from TV, Chatelaine is intending to expand its promotional footprint next month to another Rogers property, the Toronto radio station CHFI. Ms. Tucker also suggested that Cityline's host Tracy Moore would likely be conducting interviews in the future that will be published in the pages of Chatelaine. Ms. Tucker insisted editorial compromise – the possibility that some content in the magazine will be there purely for promotional purposes – was not a concern. "We have a really strong relationship with our audience – whether it be on social media or through letters," she said. "It's a two-way street, and if they were unhappy with something we were doing, we would hear about it instantly."

In any case, that may be an old-fashioned concern that few people (other than crusty media critics) even care about any more. Increasingly, new media companies are launching properties on a variety of platforms, each of which help raise the profile of the others. Huffington Post now boasts 12 hours a day of live video programming (even if few people watch it). The Daily Beast, which swallowed Newsweek, programs a variety of short shows (maybe five minutes each) for its Web-based Daily Beast TV.

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With an ever-fracturing landscape and increasing competition spilling across the border, it would be gratifying to see more Canadian broadcasting companies throwing their weight behind our homegrown magazine industry. It would be good for the country. And, you know, maybe even their bottom line.

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About the Author
Senior Media Writer

Simon Houpt is the Globe and Mail's senior media writer, charged with covering the industry's transformation. He began his career with The Globe in 1999 as the paper's New York arts correspondent, covering the cultural life of that city through Canadian eyes. More

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