MSOs Want More Custom-Fit Promotions

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Some men prefer tailor-made suits. Others buy off the rack.

And when it comes to network-affiliate sales promotion tie-ins, some cable operators take what the networks offer, while others, more frequently, ask for promotions customized to meet their needs.

Cox Communications Inc., Time Warner Cable and AT & T Broadband are among those MSOs opting more and more for the customized route.

Many operators are also hopping on the integrated-promotions bandwagon because they like having their local ad-sales, marketing and public-affairs departments working together on such efforts.

On the network side, Discovery Networks U.S. and MTV Networks are among the most active in both the custom-fit and one-size-fits-all approaches.

There's a growing trend toward customized affiliate-sales promotion tie-ins, as well as more integrated efforts, said MTV Networks vice president of affiliate ad sales Jason Malamud.

"That three-tiered effort is important to Cox," he said. Cox customizes tie-ins from Nickelodeon, Discovery Kids and others.

Nick is customizing this year's "Double Dare 2000 Audition Tour" promotion for Cox. That new tie-in-which runs from late February into late May-replaces the Road Rules tie-in that MTV: Music Television has customized for the MSO for the past four years.

Road Rules is believed to have generated $2 million-plus each year for Cox's Cox CableRep Advertising unit.

As the Double Dare "presenting sponsor," Cox could pick the 11 markets where the audition tour will take place, Malamud said. Consumers will audition to get on the program, and the winners will be flown to Orlando, Fla., for an actual taping.

Cox sold several malls on the sponsorship package, Malamud said. It integrated the event by also demonstrating its Cox@Home high-speed-data service.

Such sales promo tie-ins are an attractive way for operators to lift their local sales, Cox vice president of ad sales Billy Farina said. MTV's Road Rules promotion, Discovery Channel's "Discovery Kids on Camera" and Nick's Double Dare are tie-in vehicles that have been successful sales lures for Cox, he said.

Cox is excited about the initial results from Double Dare, but a spokeswoman said it is too soon to release ad-sales data.

SPENDING STEIN'S MONEY

In addition, Cox will work with Comedy Central on a "Bachelor Party" promotion, Farina added. Comcast Corp. will also team with Comedy this year on "Spend Ben Stein's Money on Rodeo Drive," a sweepstakes with a trip to Beverly Hills as top prize, Comcast senior vice president of ad sales Filemon Lopez said.

The Discovery Networks U.S. tie-in slate this year includes "Discovery Kids on Camera," in its second year with Cox; "Your World, Your Adventure," which Discovery Kids conducts with Time Warner in select markets; and a Travel Channel "Great American Road Trip Promotion" with a Web component set for later this year, said Discovery director of local ad sales Megan Rock.

Cox corporate director of marketing Debby Mullin said of the customized "Camera" linkup: "Integrating our marketing, sales, public relations and advertising functions to achieve multiple goals for the company.is tremendously exciting and profitable."

Discovery also is working with AT & T Broadband on promotions for such highly clustered markets as San Francisco, Rock said. And on a regional basis, Discovery is working with National Cable Communications on a Hitachi-sponsored "Think Big, Watch Big, Win Big" promotion.

"We now have a three-pronged approach: MSO co-branded efforts, off-the-shelf promotions that are being deployed in different ways and [other tie-ins] helping to drive affiliates' digital business," said Discovery Networks senior vice president of distribution and marketing strategy Lori McFarling.

AT & T Broadband senior vice president of ad sales Judi Boyett Heady also expressed interest in having other networks tailor such tie-ins. "We're talking to networks about across-the-board promotions for AT & T," she added.

In another form of customization, MTVN tailored advertiser solicitation letters for operators and interconnects participating in its VH1 Behind the Music promotion.

Comcast also prefers customized and co-branded promotions with such programmers as MTV: Music Television, Nick and ESPN, rather than off-the-shelf promos. "We're pretty aggressive on this front," Lopez said.

Currently, Comcast amasses nearly $60 million in annual local sales from such tie-ins, and Lopez wants to raise that.

"One size fits all doesn't always work," noted Kelleigh Dulany, Discovery's director of national promotions, in explaining the growth of tailored affiliate linkups.

But both Discovery's Dulany and MTVN's Malamud are quick to point out that customization's success isn't a knock on the traditional network promo tie-in.

Added Comcast's Lopez: "Those also can be good. They just don't generate the same kind of excitement" as the tailored variety.

In the past year, MTVN's networks have run at least 17 promo tie-ins, according to Malamud. Those events have placed $22 million in various affiliates' coffers.

A key reason for such success, Malamud said, is that MTVN's viewers are young and more likely to enter contests and the like than those in their 40s, for example.

Last year, it looked as if MTV's Video Music Awards, at $3.8 million, would be MTVN's top-grossing sales promotion tie-in for 1999. But after crunching 1999's final numbers, Malamud said the fete finished second to Nick's "Costumed Characters Tour."

The tour topped $2.3 million in the preliminary tally, but ended up at $4.5 million-with only two-thirds of participating affiliates reporting in.

Nick's Kids' Choice Awards, which posted $2.3 million a year ago, is again above $2 million this spring, Malamud said. Among the most active participants were MSOs Time Warner (in 18 markets), Cable One Inc. (in seven markets) and AT & T (in six plus the AT & T-run Chicago interconnect).

Also active were interconnects, including AdNex Detroit, Greater Boston Cable Advertising and the Philadelphia Interconnect.

VH1's Divas 2000, which saluted Diana Ross, generated $1.5 million in local revenue, Malamud said. That's down about $200,000 from last year's Divas Live '99.

Nick's "GameLab" tour, which scored $1.8 million last year, will be on the road again this year, with revamped sets and promo materials, Malamud said. Comcast is among the MSOs particularly enthusiastic about that event, he noted.

MOVIE AWARD BUCKS

MTV Movie Awards is MTVN's current project, due for June 8 in primetime. It garnered "just over $1 million last year and should do even better this year," he said. Several cellular-phone companies are among affiliates' local sponsors, Malamud said, joining the more typical auto dealers and restaurants.

Ford Motor Co. is the special's national sponsor and will contribute Focus cars to local affiliates as grand prizes.

Dulany cited several Animal Planet tie-ins among Discovery Networks' latest successes, including "Catch Croc Fever," which is linked with its hit Crocodile Hunter series.

In addition, Charter Communications Inc.'s Worcester, Mass., system in early April connected with a live event tie-in for Animal Planet's Zooventure series, while Comcast's Albuquerque, N.M., system and a local PetSmart store tied into the network's traveling "Animal Planet Rescue" vehicle in May.

Discovery is also taking a new tack with its off-the-shelf promos by adding online elements, notably for Discovery Health and Travel Channel, Dulany said.

For Travel, the "Great American Road Trip" promotion, which soon will book a national auto sponsor, will draw consumers to affiliates' Web pages as well as those of local advertisers, she added. Discovery Health's education-based "Food for Fuel" promotion involves online activities and local events at schools, and will help affiliates promote high-speed Internet access, she added.

And Discovery plans to accelerate its support for affiliates' digital-cable services, McFarling said. Citing Discovery's retail stores as an example, she said the company could promote products with bag stuffers, by printing promotional messages on receipts and via "touch-and-feel" in-store product demonstrations.

Discovery will soon test cable-modem promotions with two MSOs-Cox in Mission Viejo, Calif., and Comcast in Baltimore, Dulany said.

Cox's Orange County, Calif., system recently used the "Discovery Kids on Camera" promotion to promote that digital channel and to demonstrate Cox Digital Telephone and Cox @Home services.

Lifetime Television is big on a holistic promotional approach. "All our future promotions will be addressing the three disciplines at the affiliate level-ad sales, marketing and public affairs," said vice president of affiliate ad sales and distribution services David McFarland.

For its annual breast cancer-awareness effort in October, Lifetime will add a sweepstakes component. The contest is tied to a month-end concert the women's channel hopes to build into a signature event.

HEADING TO 1,000

Though months away, the 2000 effort already has booked 857 participating affiliates, and McFarland projected the final count will again surpass 1,000.

At AT & T Broadband, Heady said most sales promotions are "done market by market without corporate direction."

But the MSO has lately started talking about taking a broader, more MSO-wide focus with tie-ins like Lifetime's breast cancer awareness and VH1's "Save the Music" efforts, she added.

Another Lifetime sweepstakes, linked to its new "Strong Women" self-esteem-themed promotion, will run for four weeks starting May 1.

Affiliates have sold the promotion for a few months and have already topped the $1.3 million local revenue mark, with final figures not yet tallied, McFarland said.

"Every Woman Counts," which starts in May and continues into the fall, is tied to the upcoming elections. The political category is its chief local-sales target.

Lifetime will also explore more customization for future promotions, he said. "We're going to be talking with MSOs about co-branding opportunities. That's definitely on our slate."

ESPN took its tie-in pitch on the road this year, visiting MSO corporate offices to outline its 2000-2001 efforts rather than pitching individual systems. The point was to call attention to "a custom overlay for individual MSOs which includes a sales incentive," said director of affiliate ad sales and new business Jeff Siegel.

The sports net also helps individual systems to set up advertiser parties and offers clients incentives to participate, he added.

ESPN's strongest promotion performers, Siegel added, are pegged to the upcoming Summer X Games and its Sunday night National Football League package.

Since they were moved from July into mid-August, the X Games have become a strong back-to-school buy for several operators. ESPN offers trips to various sites as a way to "experience the Summer X Games."

A mailer for "Football Blitz," ESPN's latest NFL promotion, went to affiliates in late April. The top prize will be a trip to see a Sunday-night game in person this fall.

Among Comcast's ESPN tie-ins last year was "Slam Dunk," a college-basketball sweepstakes, Lopez said. In another customized tie-in, the MSO ran the joint Lifetime/ History Channel "Countdown 2000" promotion, which offered the top prize of a trip to Rome.

TWC PLAYS IT SAFE

The Weather Channel's latest affiliate promotion is the co-branded "Live By It! Win By It! Sweepstakes," due July 31-Aug. 27 with local ad-sales and marketing opportunities.

To be promoted at the National Show, that tie-in is customizable for each participating system or interconnect, said TWC brand director of affiliate marketing Daryn Pustilnik.

"Project Safe Side," TWC's safety and preparedness initiative conducted in association with the American Red Cross, has proven to be a lucrative ad sales vehicle for affiliates since last year, the network said.

Cable One's strong network promotions this year would have to include Weather's "Safe Side" campaign, said Ron Pancratz, the MSO's vice president of ad sales.

He also cited efforts linked to ESPN's SportsCenter and an off-the-shelf Turner Network Sales contest.

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