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Without the TV show, Top Gear could be heading for the scrapyard

Nick Thomas

Nick Thomas

Guest post by Nick Thomas, Practice Leader, Digital Media Telecoms, Media and IT,  Ovum

Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson’s latest indiscretion – a “fracas” with one of the show’s producers – was not only a piece of industry gossip, but also the lead news story across the UK media the following day, after the final two shows of the current series were cancelled.

There has already been much analysis of the appeal (or otherwise) of the undoubted star of BBC2’s top-rated show. Despite the star’s deliberate positioning of himself as a conservative bulwark against modern political correctness, the Top Gear brand is among the most successful examples of a TV show embracing traditional and digital media opportunities and becoming a very modern cross-channel “omnibrand.” Like individuals such as Martha Stewart and Jamie Oliver and kids’ brands such as Lego, Pokemon, and Disney’s Frozen, Top Gear transcends individual media categories; it has created a whole ecosystem of interrelated products around the core brand proposition.

The end of a pioneering media “omnibrand”

Top Gear is a hit TV show in the UK, with 5 million regular viewers, and is reportedly shown in 170 countries to an audience of 350 million (both in its original UK edition and as a repackaged format). With the support of the BBC’s commercial arm, BBC Worldwide, the brand has been extended to and supported by a raft of other products. Physical media spin-offs such as DVDs, books, a monthly magazine (published in 31 countries), and even Top Gear-themed CDs have generated significant revenues and boosted the appeal of the core TV show in a form of virtuous circle. Top Gear has also successfully branched out into the live events business, which is now viewed by other media owners as a way to monetize their brands.

Importantly, Top Gear has also become a major digital media proposition. As well as being perhaps the most popular show to be streamed on the BBC’s iPlayer video on-demand service and one of the most “torrented” shows globally, it has more than 4 million subscribers to its YouTube channel. Although they are not primarily revenue-generating, those online video clips support and extend the brand’s appeal, especially among the young males that broadcasters struggle to engage. Top Gear has also harnessed social media to increase its appeal further and embraced innovative release strategies such as simultaneous broadcast via BBC and BBC America.

In addition, Top Gear has found ways to monetize digital media. For example, the Top Gear Stunt School app, which costs £1.99, has been downloaded more than 2.4 million times. Even leaving aside Clarkson’s personal brand – supported by his newspaper columns in The Sun and The Sunday Timesand by his best-selling books – Top Gear has gone way beyond being just a TV show. It is a hugely successful media omnibrand, whose component parts all help to sustain and extend its appeal and generate significant revenues for the BBC (and the show’s talent).

However, the TV show remains at the heart of the whole brand proposition, and the question is now whether the Top Gear juggernaut can continue without its star at the wheel. The BBC management, it seems, has lost patience with Clarkson after yet another unsavory incident. Other broadcasters may want to take the show over, but unless they can sustain the wider omnibrand (much of which is supported by the BBC), then Top Gear – and its array of branded products – could be heading for the scrapyard.

First published here on the Ovum site.

Nick Thomas will be sharing more insight at this year’s TV Connect (28 – 30 April 2015 ExCel, London). Click here for booking and more info.

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