Turner Classic Movies is one of the only 24-hour curated film channels available today. Its celebration of movies from the past could easily make it obsolete and stagnant. However, in the past few years, the cable network and its brand have taken leaps and strides in introducing new and modern ways to view old films. The rebrand that TCM announced at the beginning of September may look purely aesthetic, but it hints at more progressive programming that will serve new viewers — and the old films — better than ever.
In 1994, TCM began broadcasting films from the Turner Entertainment vault, which includes Warner Bros., MGM, and RKO Pictures. The cable network offered commercial-free programming along with host-delivered intros, which has not changed in more than 20 years. Even when AMC (American Movie Classics) abandoned this similar model to show contemporary releases, TCM remained the one place for classic films without commercials or edits to the original films. For many, the channel has been as much of a source of education as it has been of entertainment.
However, media consumption has changed rapidly in the past 10 years. Cable television viewership among younger audiences has become a rarity thanks to streaming services that offer everything possible without much curation. TCM made an effort to respond to this need by partnering with Criterion for the beloved but short-lived streaming service Filmstruck. TCM now has a sizable and diverse catalog on HBO Max. But many of their films lack the hosted introductions that make the brand unique. Fortunately, those intros are available through TCM’s on-demand option, Watch TCM.
The new “brand refresh” follows Warner Media’s dissolution of Turner Broadcasting System, leaving the future of TCM up in the air. However, it also follows many successful efforts to modernize TCM programming in the past few years.
Balancing an interest in the past with updated perspectives is not always easy, but the channel has found a way to further incorporate contextualizing old content with incredibly knowledgeable hosts such as Jacqueline Stewart and Alicia Malone. Their programs, “Silent Sunday Nights” and “TCM Imports,” have brought in films from varying perspectives, places, and time periods, allowing a stretch beyond the typical “classic” canon.
Last year, the “Women Make Film” program was a multi-week series of documentaries and films made by women from around the world. There has been a very clear effort to include more people of color in regular programming, as well, like with Star of the Month, which is currently highlighting Paul Robeson for the first time.
This kind of evolution not only attracts younger or previously uninterested viewers, but it also challenges long-time fans as well. There can be quite a push by a large portion of TCM viewers to exclusively play the hits. While showing Singin’ in the Rain at least four times a year ensures that there are ample times for someone to experience it for the first or fiftieth time, showing “new” movies is what keeps viewers tuning in again and again.
Having the tough conversations about rampant racism in Hollywood, the queer-coded characters of early American film, and the stars whom people have forgotten about challenges the nostalgia that can keep many people away from classic movies. That nostalgia is also challenged when we connect themes and attitudes from the past to today, which can uncover systemic problems within America that many people choose to ignore or believe have faded in time. Overall, recent efforts from TCM have set out to make more well-rounded and critical audiences, which feels so rare in media today.
It would be foolish not to recognize the power of marketing and branding as a way of showing off this work to modernize the brand while continuing its original goal, showing classic films. The TCM team, along with Sibling Rivalry, came up with a sleeker and easily malleable look for the logo and graphics associated with the new and improved TCM. These aesthetics look similar to many film festival graphics, like those of the New York Film Festival and Sundance. These festivals are associated with the future of film, which the TCM rebrand seems to be going for as well.
Inspired by shades found in Technicolor films and modern color movies, the palette for the branding is bright and colorful. This is a direct antithesis to what people think of when they think of old movies. “We want classic films to live,” says Dexter Fedor, Vice-President, Brand Creative & Marketing.
With the new tagline for TCM, “Where then meets now,” this desire is clear. The imagery alone would be bland. But it becomes a pedestal that stills and clips from TCM movies can stand on and stand out. Old films are still alive in the conversations we have about them and their influence on modern movies.
The TCM logo now focuses on the “C,” which has many different forms depending on its use. The “C” now embodies the core of what TCM will continue to focus on in the future: curation, context, connection, culture, and of course, classics. These aspects have been a part of TCM all along, so what people love about the channel is not changing. There is just a larger emphasis on what will keep TCM growing and evolving with generations to come.
Branding and aesthetics feel like a secondary thought to people focused on the movies that TCM provides. But it is a sign of efforts being made to grow TCM and keep it from being a casualty of streaming services. There is so much value in recontextualizing films of the past. We can learn as much about ourselves as we can about history and art. That can only be appreciated and influential if TCM can reach a wide audience. Here’s to hoping this attractive refresh will do just that.
Related Topics: TCM