The idea of a digital media company is a relatively new concept and social norm. In the early 2000s, legacy media companies dominated the news and entertainment realm and continued to generate massive consumer revenue and followings. As the world moved into the 21st century, this system began to rapidly change. Legacy media companies became less relevant as new media innovations propelled the world into the digital era. In February of 2004, Facebook was launched in the dorm room of a Harvard undergrad named Mark Zuckerberg. In 2006, Twitter was launched and within the next six years, collected nearly 100 million users. In 2006, Buzzfeed was founded in New York City by a team of journalists who set out to revolutionize how people interacted with the Internet. In June of 2007, Apple launched the first iPhone, seamlessly connecting humans to technology and digital media. In September of 2011, people started sending photos of themselves to their friends on an app called Snapchat. These five examples illustrate just a few of the digital milestones of the early 2000s. Despite the rapid rate of digital development, in the moment it may feel like an organic progression of inventions and innovation. However, when future generations look back at the early 2000s, it will be clear that an almost sudden revolution took place, changing the course of human history.
At the forefront of the digital age is E! Entertainment Television, LLC. E! is an American television channel owned by the media conglomerate NBCUniversal. As of February 2015, E!’s audience reached nearly 4,296,000 American households – approximately 81.0% of televisions. E! has flawlessly transitioned from a legacy media company in the 1990s, to a new media power house of the digital age. By examining the past, present, and future of E!, we can develop a greater understanding of how E! contributes to digital disruption and has changed the landscape of pop culture and social media.
In July of 1987, Movietime was founded by Larry Namer and Greg Kinnear, as service that streamed movie trailers, events and awards coverage, and celebrity interviews. In June of 1990, Movietime was bought by the Time Warner Company and renamed E! Entertainment Television. The change was made in effort to expand the channel’s focus to the “celebrity industry complex,” television, music, pop culture and fashion. In a 1990 Los Angeles Times article “E!–the Entertainment Channel Debuts Today : Television: Former MTV exec Lee Masters revamps Movietime“, author Susan King writes, “It’s ‘Entertainment Tonight’ gone berserk: A 24-hour-a-day cable channel featuring interviews with celebrities, movie reviews, entertainment news and behind-the-scene peeks at films and TV. Lee Masters, who was credited for revitalizing MTV, was named president and tasked with transforming Movietime to E!. Masters said in an interview at the time, “This is going to be a lot broader than Movietime…It’s going to have a sense of fun. It will cover anything to do with entertainment.” In the 1990s, there was an influx of celebrity gossip magazines and television programs. When asked if there was still space for a channel like E!, Masters said, “There’s always a kind of appetite for this kind of thing.” Under the guidance of Masters, E! quickly grew and gained a following. Despite the crowded field of celebrity gossip and tabloid style journalism, Masters knew that there was always space for more entertainment and more gossip.
E! in the 1990s: 45% movies and their stars//35% on television and their celebrities//15% on music and its personalities. This infographic illustrates the distribution of content using examples of what would have been of discussion on E!
E! seamlessly transitioned into a full-fledged celebrity gossip, pop culture and entertainment destination. Moving from the 1990s into the early 2000s, E! remained exclusively a television channel, promoting its newest feature E! News. E! News debuted in September of 1991 as a weekday program that would feature pop culture stories and gossip about celebrities. E! News was modeled after a traditional morning news show, but geared toward a younger, more permeable and more adaptable audience: young women. Steve Kmetko was host from 1994-2002. In 2006, Ryan Seacrest became co-host and managing editor of the news operation at E! In 2012, Terrence Jenkins and Giuliana Rancic took over as hosts of E! News.
PRESENT: E! POP OF CULTURE
In 2012, E! released the tagline, “E!, POP OF CULTURE” and in recent years has become well known for their roster of original, reality TV programing. The network produces a large amount of documentary style broadcasts; E! True Hollywood Story and E! Investigates were two of the networks most popular shows in the mid 2000s.
Some of E!’s original programming includes: The Soup, The Fashion Police, The Girls Next Door, Married to Jonas, The Anna Nicole Show and Ice Loves Coco.
However, no show on E! has come close to matching the success and reach of Keeping Up With the Kardashians. The first episode aired on October 7th 2007, following the lives of the Kardashian-Jenner Family in Los Angeles, California. The show has spawned three spin-off series and brought the family into the world wide spot light and global fame. The series follows the trials and tribulations of the three eldest sisters, Kim, Kourtney, and Khloe. The Kardashians are now known as the “royal family”of America and since 2007, have created a global brand for themselves, under the guidance of matriarch Kris Jenner. The Kardashian Brand is in part due to the media strategy of both the family members and E! The following infographic illustrates the progression and growth of the Kardashian empire and their rapid assent from reality TV stars, to multi-media moguls.
E! Online is the digital and online branch of the E! network. The website features entertainment news stories and offers streaming of their original series. During red carpet events, such as the Academy Awards or the Golden Globes, the website will live stream the events featuring their E! News correspondents. In July of 2012, EOnline.com was redesigned to accommodate both tablet and mobile platforms. On the About Us page on E! Online it says:
“E! Online is your No. 1 destination for all things pop culture. We’re one of the fastest-growing digital destinations, with more than 39 million multiplatform unique visitors per month in the U.S. We eat, sleep and breathe pop culture, delivering exclusive breaking news and in-depth coverage on celebrities, awards show and movie premiere livestreams, TV scoops and spoilers, fashion trends and tips, and what’s viral now.”
E! Online epitomizes the seamless transition from a legacy media corporation to a new media, digital conglomerate. Unlike similar television networks and legacy news corporations, E! has openly embraced the digital revolution and participated in its growth. Rather than focusing on television alone, E! embraced its stars as social media icons and provides the online and digital platforms for their promotion. The following infographic illustrates the massive and diverse online following of E!
E! Online has an unparalleled reach across all digital platforms:
• 38 million multi-platform users (pic: E! Online logo)
• 27 million mobile (smartphone/tablet) users (pic: iPhone)
• 13 million desktop/laptop users (pic: keyboard)
• 65 million cross-platform video views, translating to 1,500 video views per minute. (pic: YouTube logo)
• Over 47 million social fans/followers (pic: Kardashian Sisters)
E! has transformed from a television channel, to a diversified, multi-media corporation. Due to it’s all encompassing brand and media approach – social media, advertising, products, etc.- the content of E! is constantly accessible to its consumers. I asked Chloe Horowitz, a Psychology student at the University of Michigan, her perspective on E!
Q: What do you think about E!’s social media and brand strategy?
A: Well, there are a few things that are important to note. E! is clearly geared toward women, ages 15-30 and they have capitalized on the malleability of the minds of these women. They have created a product, Keeping Up With The Kardashians for example, and created an empire based on the presumption that these women are some how more glamorous and important than the rest of us. Using social media and extremely aggressive branding, E! has been one of the driving forces that has made our society to obsessed with celebrity culture. I don’t find the shows on E! to be particularly entertaining, rather it seems silly and pathetic to chronicle the lives of fake celebrities and glorify their lack of accomplishments. On social media, E! stars have used every tool in the book to garner massive followings. This allows them an amazing global reach and I admire when they use their voices for good. I just wish young girls and some women didn’t become so obsessed with them and imitating their lives.
Q: How has E! changed how people, particularly young women, interact with reality TV and polarized the market of reality television?
A: I think it has made women more insecure. Girls are constantly trying to live up to the standards of the absurd and unrealistic lives of the Kardashians, which as we all know is crazy!! I think the concept of “reality” TV is particularly problematic. Clearly these shows are manipulated and manufactured and any one who is watching them should be aware of this to some degree. E! has polarized the market of reality television and created a world of consumers who are obsessed with following the fake lives of real people. It is no longer reality television. It creates a plethora of issues, but I think the insecurity issue is the most problematic.
Anyone who monitors pop culture and celebrity entertainment knows that E! is the most formidable and influential brand in the “celebrity” industry. E! is now available throughout Asia, Africa, Australia, Europe and the Middle East. E! has exploited the “celebrity industry complex” into a multi-billion dollar enterprise. Before E!, the most popular reality shows in America were American Idol and Survivor. Since the airing of the first episode of Keeping Up With The Kardashians, there has been a shift from actual reality television to glorified reality television. Using the tools of the digital age -Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, and Facebook- E! has catapulted its celebrities into world wide fame. The transformation of E! illustrates the potential for a legacy media company to embrace the digital age and utilize the tools provided by technology to expands its reach and dominance. E! is a digital media company of the 21st century and exemplifies the power of televised, online, social, and digital media.