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Why It's a Good Idea for Spike to Rebrand as the Paramount Network

Spike will become the Paramount Network in 2018

liam-mathews-headshot2.jpg
Liam Mathews

On Thursday, Viacom announced that Spike is going to be rebranded as the Paramount Network. The previously men's-focused Spike brand will be phased out and replaced by the Paramount Network in early 2018.

Rebranding is a tricky thing that's almost impossible to do right (just ask Qwikster), but this might be one of the rare times it'll work. Embracing Paramount, a name almost synonymous with Hollywood, is a great decision on Viacom's part.
Spike president Kevin Kay -- who will stay on to oversee the transition -- understands that people already know and like the studio with the mountain logo.

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"For more than 100 years, the iconic Paramount name has been closely associated with the biggest stars and most compelling stories in all of entertainment," he wrote in a memo to Spike staff. "It's a studio known worldwide with unparalleled brand recognition."

Brand recognition, unfortunately, is something Spike has always had a problem with. It's always been associated with "men only" even as it's cycled through different programming strategies. It launched in 2003 as a young male-focused channel airing action movies and pro wrestling. A few years later, it shifted to unscripted programming like Bar Rescue and Ink Master, which aren't as testosterone-fueled but still skew male. In 2015, it rebranded with Lip Sync Battle, a broadly appealing and successful show with no gender bias attached. By then, Spike had been trying to shed its "television for dudes" image for years, but first impressions stick.

Men's media has been in crisis for years -- see Playboy magazine's abandonment of nude photos, the unsuccessful rebrand of Maxim or the recent shuttering of the Esquire network for evidence -- as overt pandering to no-girls-allowed machismo has grown less palatable to mainstream audiences.

Ditching the Spike identity allows the network to start fresh with an inclusive brand that audiences already know. That heavy lifting is done.

Sonequa Martin-Green, Lip Sync Battle

It frees up the new Paramount Network to experiment with making quality content. "Its focus will be on building distinctive, high-quality scripted and non-scripted original programming -- with dramas, comedies, documentaries, movies, sports and tentpole events," Kay wrote.

Of course, the Paramount Network could very well become yet another upstart network making good shows that never find an audience. The field is so crowded right now that new players struggle to catch on no matter how much brand recognition they have. Add in the fact that "distinctive and high-quality" is much more nebulous concept than "men ages 18-34" and there's the possibility that the network will end up trying to appeal to everyone and reaching no one.

Still, it's a small step in the right direction for Viacom, a company that's been struggling mightily for years. New CEO Bob Bakish plans to refocus the company's resources on its "flagship brands:" BET, Comedy Central, MTV, Nickelodeon, Nick Jr. and Paramount. The Paramount Network has a better chance of becoming a household name like MTV than Spike ever did.