Let us all take a moment today to remember Spike, before it goes off into TV heaven to join other late and mostly unlamented networks like the DuMont Network, G4, Soapnet, INHD, Fine Living, and ESPN 3D.
Of course, the current “Spike” was itself built on the bones of its previous incarnations, in sequence The Nashville Network, TNN, The National Network, The New TNN, and Spike TV. A reminder that television is as ruthless as the Mafia if you don’t deliver an audience.
At the time of Spike TV’s launch in 2003, it sure seemed like a no brainer – a network programmed for men and promoted as such. If I remember correctly, it was the first network to do so, although in 2003 there were already several networks promoted “for women” that had varying degrees of success. Even if many other networks had a predominantly male audience (like ESPN), they weren’t promoted as “for men.”
Unfortunately, Spike TV never really found the great success that was hoped for. After seven years, in 2010, it rebranded to appeal to a wider audience while keeping its name, but at that point, one can assume the Spike name didn’t have a lot of brand appeal to women. It did strike gold in 2015 by being the lucky network that didn’t pass on Lip Synch Battle, which is probably the only program anyone will ever remember from the network.
I was always outside of the Spike demo, so I didn’t watch it much aside from the occasional movie. But I did watch one program without fail, Deadliest Warrior. This show pitted soldiers from different periods in simulated battles (Roman centurions versus Navy SEALs – who is the deadliest warrior?!?!). It ran for only three seasons (2009-2011) but it was a favorite watch for me and my son (aged 12-14 at the time).
It’s an interesting observation that a later network aimed at young men, Esquire, was also a flop, closing up shop after only a few years. Perhaps there is a reason why young men are so hard to reach and why sports are so valuable to do that – those youngsters just won’t sit in front of a set to make a fully male-programmed network successful.
Spike will be replaced by The Paramount Network, a new network (not to be confused with the late, little lamented UPN) and one of Viacom’s key five networks in their new business strategy. Paramount is intended to be Viacom’s answer to prestige content, a la FX, so let’s hope they keep on brand – and on the air – for more than a couple of years.
Lastly, as a footnote, check out the Twitter feed from @Spike from yesterday (Tuesday Jan. 16). In either an ingenious last marketing effort, or just the social media director truly going off-reservation on his last day, it has some final, very funny tweets.
David Tice is the principal of TiceVision LLC, a media research consultancy.
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