Cable Operators

Court TV Bridging Its Carriage Gaps

11/21/2004 7:00 PM Eastern

Hoping to fill the holes in its distribution, Court TV has stepped up marketing and affiliate-sales efforts targeted to small cable operators.

The network, which currently counts about 82.6 million subscribers, is now focused on cutting deals with the little guys, including dozens of small systems where the general manager is often the same person that drives to homes for installs.

“We’re going to the corners to get the rest of those systems. While we’re mature, we still have a big mountain to climb,” said Court TV executive vice president of affiliate relations Bob Rose.

Court TV used that mountain-climber analogy in a direct mail piece it recently sent to small cable systems that contained the headline, “Tired of climbing high rates?”

WINE AND SWEETS

The ad shows an image of “Bully Mountain,” with flags labeled Viacom, Disney and Fox at the summit and a cartoon of a climber on the bottom, asking, “Is it worth it?”

Accompanying the direct-mail piece sent to each small operator were bottles of inexpensive wine from upstate New York vineyard Bully Hill. Court TV also sent chocolate covered fortune cookies to small operators. The fortune inside the cookie says, “Court TV is in your future.”

The small-operator marketing strategy for Court TV, jointly owned by Time Warner Inc. and Liberty Media Corp., stresses that as an independent without the leverage of large media outfits such as Fox Cable Networks Group, it has some things in common with them.

“We don’t have leverage,” said Rose. “We don’t have the broadcaster relationship, thus retransmission consent. We don’t have the sister networks, and therefore we don’t have the economics of those networks to help drive distribution deals. And so the small systems actually identify with us, being standalone, just as they stand alone.”

Court TV isn’t spending a lot of money on the small-cable marketing push, said director of affiliate relations Mark Kang, who oversees the campaign.

Kang said most of his pitches are conducted via telephone.

“It’s more time than anything else,” said Kang, who joined Court five years ago as an affiliate-relations analyst. Prior to that, Kang, who worked his way through college by selling encyclopedias door to door, toiled as a retail broker at Morgan Stanley.

Court TV’s biggest distribution hole is the 45,000-subscriber Eastern Connecticut Cable TV Inc. in New London, Conn, according to Kang.

Recent deals with small operators include Irvine Community Television in Irvine, Kentucky (5,000 subscribers); Semo Communications in Semo, Missouri (2,000 subscribers); and Lakeview Cable in Pecan Valley, Okla. (200 subscribers).

One of the most common reasons small operators give him for not adding Court TV to their lineups is channel capacity, said Kang, who noted that many small systems run on 350-Megahertz plant that can only accommodate 40 channels.

When channel capacity is an issue, Court TV will sometimes recommend that the operator replace another network with Court TV.

“I never say drop anything unless the operator says, 'Help me to explain what I should do,’” Kang said.

ONGOING EFFORTS

To motivate its sales force, which has more incentives to cut deals with larger operators, Kang said Court TV recently ran a contest in which it gave away two Apple iPods — one to the sales rep that made the most qualified calls to small operators, and one to the sales rep that added the most subscribers to Court TV.

Court TV runs quarterly campaigns targeting small operators, some of which like the effort.

“They do a good job of staying in front of the members and targeting those companies to remind them about some of the changes in programming and ratings success over the past few years,” said National Cable Television Cooperative senior vice president of programming Frank Hughes.

Court TV said it has added more subs than any other cable network in the last five years, picking up 45.3 million since 1999, when it counted 37 million homes.

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