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Bravo: Bringing Art to the Mass Market

by Lucas Alvarez and Peter DiPrinzio

I. Industrial Analysis


Bravo was originally envisioned as an upscale cable network with programming focused on the arts. It was created in 1980 as part of the Cablevision’s Rainbow Media group. For the first 20 years of its history, Bravo programmed mainly movies, specializing in foreign, independent and classic movies. Although it suffered mediocre ratings, it was marketed as and became known for a niche station for the arts. In the nineties it expanded to include some original arts-focused programming of its own, such as Inside the Actors Studio.[1]

In 2002 NBC bought Bravo from Cablevision for $1.25 million, which fundamentally shifted the channel’s focus. At this time, Bob Wright, NBC programming director, said Bravo would remain a “specialized network with upmarket artsy programming,” but would include some repurposed content from NBC.[2] However, less than a year later NBC was aggressively promoting its reruns on Bravo and broadcast TV and Bravo decided to produce its first reality show: Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. NBC moved one of its executives, Jeff Gaspin, to lead Bravo’s programming division and he made the channel’s new direction clear: to “continue with arts and entertainment programming” but to “add a dash of style and pop-culture programming.”[3]

Bravo executives were not motivated to make this shift by style trends, but rather economics. The network had only been averaging a 0.3 Nielsen rating during primetime before the shift and NBC wanted to make more money from its new asset by reaching a larger market.[4] Bravo began to program original reality shows with an artsy twist, such as Queer Eye for the Straight Guy and later Project Runway to expand its popularity. This strategy worked well to boost ratings and NBC executives even moved later seasons of Queer Eye to broadcast television on NBC. Also, Bravo programmers began running more second-run syndicated shows from NBC and other networks, such the West Wing. Some re-runs like Kingpin featured language and alternate endings not shown on NBC, which they called the “director’s cut.”[5] Since this shift, Bravo has continued in the direction of more mainstream programming, focusing on reality TV and docutainment. 

Ownership and Conglomeration

Bravo is owned by NBC Universal Cable, a division of NBC Universal. NBC Universal is a large, wide-reaching media conglomerate owned 80 percent by General Electric. NBC Universal was created in 2004 when NBC merged with Vivendi Universal Entertainment, expanding NBC from a broadcast network and a few cable channels to include theme parks, film studios, television production and even more cable channels.[6] This large conglomerate allows for synergy and sharing of resources among divisions, so that TV and movie characters can be used in theme parks or TV shows produced by an in-house studio.

However, in recent months Comcast has agreed to purchase a majority stake in NBC Universal from GE. Although the merger is pending FCC approval, this would potentially give Comcast control over a singular content and distribution network. This would concentrate the control of a wide variety of mediums from providing internet and television to creating, distributing and transmitting television and cable content, to theme parks and Hulu etc. Critics contend this could lead to favorable treatment of affiliated content and hurt competition by giving new conglomerate an unfair advantages.[7]

Target Audience

At its base, Bravo’s main target audience consists of men and women in the ranges of eighteen to forty-nine and twenty-five to fifty-four years of age. This is consistent with the effort to rejuvenate its audience since its opening as a ‘highbrow’ channel. According to the 2008 Cabletelevision Advertising Bureau (CAB) profile, viewers average an annual household income of $61, 342 and are a median of 43 years old. 73% of this audience owns a home and 76% have a computer with internet access. [8] Other figures suggest this target audience is well educated, technologically adept, and well traveled.
While it is true that titles such as Queer Eye, Project Runway, and Boy Meets Boy, imply a focus on a gay male audience, Bravo actually tries to steer itself towards a female audience between eighteen and forty-nine. As the former president, Jeff Gaspin, said: "Does this mean that Bravo is becoming a gay network? Absolutely not... On the surface [the program block] might seem designed for gay audiences, but it's really not... When we discussed our advertising plans for how we are going to promote it, the first group of people we are going to promote it to are women [aged] 18 to 49... We don't sell a gay audience to advertisers." [9]. The corporate leadership recognizes its programming attracts a gay audience, yet their main target remains young women because it is a more profitable group than the comparatively narrow gay male audience. They insist that they do not need to look at the gay audience because they will naturally follow programs with these themes. 
Coming from its upmarket niche market, Bravo needed to appeal to a wider audience while keeping its identity if it wanted to compete in today’s industry.[10] It achieved this by focusing its attention on women  to broaden its viewership base and propel it to the levels of popularity it enjoys today.


With its current and past lineup, it is no wonder that Bravo has often been hailed as the gayest channel on television. However, the programming on this channel, albeit mainly gay in content, is not all gay-themed. For example, the channel has offered The Real Houswives of… series with its spin-offs, Inside the Actor’s Studio, Top Chef, and Tabloid Wars as options that do not consist of strictly gay content. Most of the shows highlight an affluent lifestyle covering themes and genres popular in the brand’s target audience.
Though, Queer Eye, the program that propelled Bravo to the forefront as a major player among cable channels is no longer running, it remains an important part of its legacy. This show proved that there was a significant market for reality television à la Bravo. A reality series that followed in Queer Eye’s footsteps and made the channel more successful is Project Runway. It remained a major hit for Bravo until its controversial departure to Lifetime in 2008, where ratings have lagged since. [11]
In addition to its original series, Bravo also gathers some of its programming from its parent company, NBC. It regularly features re-runs of popular shows like The West Wing and, more recently, House. It is clear that these shows depart from the genre and themes that characterize Bravo, yet it they bring a great advantage to the table. Even if a cable channel like Bravo could not necessarily afford a drama series it benefits from its corporate network. Furthermore, this type of programming diversifies the channel’s offering, making it more attractive to a yet wider audience. As Alessandra Stanley of the New York Times points out, “Bravo, with its potpourri of original programs and NBC hand-me-downs, has a gay identity and a strong following that reaches beyond gay audiences… Bravo provides an arena where gays and straights interact, sometimes in harmony and sometimes in conflict, but almost always with flair and a sense of humor.” [12] She finishes by saying, “Bravo is best known for lighthearted, gay-oriented shows that also have wider appeal. And that makes it a serious matter.” [13]


Bravo promotes itself as an original, upscale, artsy cable channel. In its own words, Bravo "delivers the best in food, fashion, beauty, design and pop culture to the most engaged, upscale and educated audience in cable." [14] When Bravo describes its brand's audience it uses similar words: hip, upscale, educated, young. In essence Bravo want to be seen as art-focused, but still accessible to the average viewer. It markets itself as not too highbrow to exclude Real Housewives, and not to simple for In the Actors Studio.[15] 

Bravo's on-screen and online presence is carefully crafted to reflect the essence of the channel's brand and target its desired demographic. Bravo's logo is comprised of bold white text inside a bright blue speech bubble. This conveys the importance of discussions, opinions and even gossip on the channel. The bold lettering and bright colors make it pop and highlight the importance of what is being said. Before 2009, the tagline that appeared with the logo was "Watch What Happens," conveying the originality and unpredictability of the programming, while clearly referenceing their popular reality shows. In 2009 executives changed the tagline to "by Bravo," and customizing it for different shows by inserting a noun in front. This way Real Housewives could be "Drama by Bravo," the website announces "Web by Bravo," Top Chef is called "Food by Bravo" and House re-runs say "Miracle by Bravo."[16] Here is a clip showing a promo using these taglines.

Promotion, Multimedia Integration, and Partnerships

Bravo has kept itsef on the cutting edge of online and social media promotion, especially encouraging viewer participation. Nowhere is this more evident than its unique partnership with the location-based social network foursquare. The joint venture allows dedicated fans of shows such as Real Housewives to virtually "check in" at locations from the show in their respective cities. In 2008, Bravo launched a promotion called B-Hive, which encouraged dedicated followers of Project Runway to dress up as their favorite contestants, post pictures, and even meet up for viewing parties. For Top Chef, viewers who want to participate even more can compete in virtual competitions on their mobile phones. The channel also solicits feeback from its most active fans, called "Influentials," through its website.

Riding on its high viewer participation, the brand utilises different technologies like smart phones and QR scanning to expand its promotion and advertising strategies across mediums. In its latest campaign, Bravo has teamed up with to offer discounts on fashion articles advertised in 45-second spots using the quick response (QR) barcodes to link viewer's smart phones to the Bluefly website.[17] In an extension of this partnership, Bravo is also helping to run an online series "Closet Confessions" created by Bluefly to advertise before the holiday season. This series features Bravo stars and other celebrities in a blog style website,  

Bravo takes its promotion a step further by resorting to gorilla marketing to get its brand out, quite literally, into the streets. In the month of April, 2010, the channel recruited 8 advertising agencies to use stencils to spray paint its logo in bright colors on the sidewalks of New York City. As seen in this video, they employed the high-traffic city sidewalks to promote their brand to professionals in their targeted demographic. 


  1. NBC's Cable Vision: Bravo Buoys Peacock Platforms, Revenues. Daily Variety, November 5, 2002. 1.
  2. NBC's Cable Vision: Bravo Buoys Peacock Platforms, Revenues. Daily Variety, November 5, 2002. 1.
  3. Romano, Allison. NBC Puts its Stamp on Bravo. Broadcasting & Cable, February 17, 2003. 1.
  4. Dempsey, John. "NBC Won't Give Bravo Rerun-Around." Variety, January 20, 2003.
  5. Romano, Allison. NBC Puts its Stamp on Bravo. Broadcasting & Cable, February 17, 2003. 1.
  6. "Company Overview". NBC Universal.
  7. Sam Gustin."Opponents Line Up Against Proposed Comcast/NBC Merger"
  8. "2008 CAB Profile.pdf.", Time Warner Cable Media Sales Website, 2008.
  9. Sender, Katherine. "Dualcasting: Bravo's Gay Programming and the Quest for Women Audiences." ASC Departmental Papers, 2007. pp.307.
  10. Ellin, Abby. "MEDIA; Bravo Learns To Make Noise And Have Fun." New York Times on the Web, July 5, 2004. (accessed on October 4, 2010)
  11. Pasquarelli, Adrianne. "Project Runqay Strike Out at Bryant Park." Crain's New York Business Website. February 12, 2010. (accessed 4 October 2010).
  12. Stanley, Alessandra, "Sex and the Gym: 'Work Out' and the Gaying of Bravo." New York Times on the Web, July 19, 2006. (accessed on 4 October 2010)
  13. Ibid.
  14. "About Us." Bravo TV Official Site.
  15. Lafayette, Jon. Bravo Creating Buzz with B-Hive; 'Project Runway' Promo Invites Viewers to Interact. Television Week, August 11, 2008. 6.
  16. Andreeva, Nellie. "Bravo Revamps Brand." Hollywoodreporter.Com, June 1, 2009.
  17. Shayon, Sheila. "Bravo and Bluefly: Out of the Closet." Brandchannel Website. September 29, 2010. (accessed on 4 October 2010)