Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show has reached the end of the runway — at least on network television.
In a note to employees on Friday, L Brands founder and chairman Leslie H. Wexner announced that “we have decided to re-think the traditional Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show. Going forward we don’t believe network television is the right fit.
“In 2019 and beyond, we’re focusing on developing exciting and dynamic content and a new kind of event — delivered to our customers on platforms that she’s glued to … and in ways that will push the boundaries of fashion in the global digital age.”
The annual event was launched in 1995 and made its network TV debut in 2001.
The show features elaborately costumed lingerie worn by the brand’s “Angels.” The show first gained national viewers in 1999 and 2000 when it streamed online.
The 1999 show’s live webcast became famous as the event that “shut down the internet,” drawing so viewers that the website crashed. Apple founder Steve Jobs later called the 1999 webcast and ensuing crash as one of the 10 seminal events in the history of the internet.
But the audience has dwindled recently. Shown last year on ABC after several years on CBS, its audience of 3.27 million was the smallest since becoming a holiday season TV event in 2001. The Nielsen company said the show has lost more than half its television audience in two years. Victoria’s Secret and the fashion show have been derided as out of touch with women during the era of the #MeToo movement.
The moves are part of Columbus-based L Brands’ ongoing work to reinvigorate its Victoria’s Secret business, Wexner said in the note.
“Fashion is a business of change. We must evolve and change to grow,” he said. “For the past few months, we’ve said that we are taking a fresh look at every aspect of our business – from merchandising, marketing and brand positioning, to our real estate portfolio, digital business and cost structure … literally everything. We have made enormous progress in a very short time, and are looking forward to a successful fall and holiday with an elevated, fashion-forward assortment.”
Wexner concluded by saying that John Mehas, who was hired as Victoria’s Secret CEO late last year, is “re-birthing the brand.”
Wall Street analysts have pummeled L Brands recently, in particular calling attention to Victoria’s Secret and Pink’s poor performance. Victoria’s Secret has lost buyers to fast-rising rivals including American Eagle Outfitters’ Aerie and Rihanna’s lingerie company Savage X Fenty.
But the actions at Victoria’s Secret “are the right steps,” said Lee Peterson, an executive vice president at WD Partners, a Dublin retail-consulting company.
“Everything Les said, albeit a little tardy, is the right thing to do,” he said. “It seems to me they had an epiphany and realized it’s a new age. You can’t do anything in retail for 20 years and not change.”
While some on Wall Street have called for drastic steps, including spinning off Victoria’s Secret or turning Bath & Body Works into a separate company, Peterson was encouraged by Wexner’s statement.
“Don’t forget Victoria’s Secret is still more than 60 percent of the market,” Peterson said. “It’s a big ship to turn around. They’re taking the right steps.”