CNN/SI Helps Ops Drive Digital

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Now that CNN/Sports Illustrated has added more live sports programming to its mix, Turner Network Sales is working to help affiliates across the U.S. drive digital-cable penetration.

When CNN/SI
began in the mid-1990s, its focus was on breaking sports news and game highlights. That's since been expanded through the addition of live coverage of events like National Association for Stock Car Racing (NASCAR) practice runs and qualifiers, The Championships at Wimbledon tennis matches, Women's United Soccer Association games and a recent agreement with the National Lacrosse League.

"There's a tremendous demand to get live sports coverage," said TNS senior vice president of marketing Coleman Breland. "As you get this kind of programming, it lends itself to digital-upgrade campaigns."

Over the summer, CNN/SI ran a campaign centered around Wimbledon. Later in the fall, the network will look at women's soccer and lacrosse as the hook for additional promotions, Breland said.

In the current "Quest for the Checkered Flag" effort, affiliates can entice consumers to upgrade to or sign up for digital cable with a chance to win a trip to the Richard Petty Driving Experience or to NASCAR races in their area, where they can meet the stock-car legend.

Earlier this year, TNS used NASCAR to promote TNT in subscriber-acquisition campaigns, driven by the basic network's coverage of the stock car circuit.

Coleman isn't concerned about reaching the saturation point with NASCAR. Even though viewers can get their fix on broadcast TV, basic cable and digital cable, he said that for some die-hard NASCAR fans, too much is never enough.

"The NASCAR fan is such an interesting fan," Breland said, noting that true racing fans tend to support the sponsors who join the drivers in the winner's circle. "NASCAR fans really want to see everything they can see."

In past consumer promotions, TNS has included free subscriptions to Sports Illustrated
or its spin-off magazines. That's not a component this month, Breland said, because the network wants that offer to stand out when it is used.

Though consumers may be attracted to digital cable for its depth of additional programming, it's typically one network — or a promotion associated with a network — that gets a digital customer to sign up, Breland said.

"There's usually an offer that pushes them over the edge," such as the chance to win a trip to Wimbledon, Breland said. "That's why we offer those things."

The marketing tactics TNS aims at nonsubscribers are different than those it uses to encourage analog customers to take digital, Breland said. Current subscribers can be pitched through on-air and cross-channel spots, while non-cable households may respond to newspaper or direct-mail initiatives.

Though some cable systems do a better job at mailing-list segmentation than others, it's not always possible to readily identify which households include avid sports fans.

"When you can't segment, I'd rather throw a little wider blanket," Breland said. Although some household profiles may indicate that the adults are most interested in movies for their home entertainment, children in a household could be developing an interest in sports, according to Breland.

CNN/SI
has roughly 18 million subscribers, but through its affiliate deals the channel is "in front of" nearly 50 million homes, Breland said. That means there's still a large, untapped market potential for digital upgrades.

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