Big-name movie stars are often called upon to help promote cable networks. But American Movie Classics hopes its focus on unknown actors will help to foster good will for the programmer and, perhaps more importantly, its affiliates.
The network said last week that it would take entries for its second annual high-school-scholarship program targeting young drama students through April 14. It plans to award roughly $250,000 in scholarships this year, as it did last year.
The number of cable systems participating in the campaign this year has nearly doubled to 448, AMC executive vice president of distribution and affiliate marketing Kim Martin said.
"We are always looking for opportunities to work with programmers and other affiliates to bring a project to schools that benefits the students and gives them an outlet for their talents," Comcast Cable Communications regional vice president for the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area and Northern Virginia Jaye Gamble said. "This is a classic example."
In addition to its partnerships with AMC and other programmers, Comcast has a very active scholarship program of its own, Gamble added.
The AMC contest is targeted at future film stars. To enter, high-school drama students must submit three- to five-minute dramatic presentations on videotape. One $500 scholarship will be awarded in each participating cable system. Last year's award was $1,000 per winning student.
A panel of as-yet-unnamed professional actors will view the entrants'tapes, and winners will be announced in the second week of May. AMC asked all participating cable systems to have general managers available to present the winning scholarships and pose for photographs for local newspaper stories.
AMC also wants affiliates to run 125 cross-channel ads each week to promote the campaign.
A national grand-prize winner will get a five-day trip to New York to work as an intern for the network's original series, Behind the Screen. Last year's scholarship campaign was tied to the AMC show From Grit to Grace.
"We've looked at ways to bring in a younger audience," Martin said. "It's our way to help young people today have the same love for older movies, and it broadens the audience for AMC."
Participating operators determine which local high schools are eligible to send student entries. AMC sent the systems promotional materials such as postcards, ad slicks, school posters and cable-office point-of-sale materials to help play up the promotion at the local level.
AMC is not the only cable network awarding scholarships. Earlier this spring, ESPN and its affiliates named eight semifinalists in the network's "Knowledge for College Challenge." Each of the finalists won a $1,000 scholarship and a chance to move forward to phase two of the contest.
More than 120 cable systems participated in the ESPN challenge, and more than 1,600 high schools offered a chance at the contest to their students. The contest challenged students to understand how math and physics play into all kinds of sports.
Semifinalists must create a new sport and use math and physics to explain it. The grand-prize winner gets a $10,000 scholarship, and the winning school gets $5,000 in media equipment.