MTVN to Flip Switch On Spike TV

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Finally, MTV Networks will get its Spike TV.

TNN will be officially renamed Spike TV on-air Aug. 11, six weeks after its initial planned launch was thwarted by a lawsuit by film director Spike Lee. Three weeks ago, the programmer paved the way for the relaunch by settling the lawsuit in which Lee claimed TNN was trying to trade on his name and reputation.

To promote the name change, the network will run numerous cross-channel spots across several MTV Networks services one week before the channel's official relaunch, said Spike TV president Albie Hecht. He wouldn't reveal how much the nearly two-month delay will ultimately cost Spike in marketing and promotional efforts.

During initial court proceedings in June, TNN officials claimed the channel had already lost $30 million of a $50 million marketing and advertising campaign to tout Spike TV.

News and cars

For its Aug. 11 premiere, the network will bow two new daily programming features. The network will tap sister financial news outlet CBS MarketWatch to provide twice-daily updates on the current state of world markets and the economy.

Additionally, Spike TV will offer Zero to Sixty, daily one-minute reports on the latest trends and news from the automotive industry.

Hecht said the two shows are part of the network's eventual buildup to an afternoon lifestyles programming block that will feature more long-form finance, travel and other informational programming targeted to males 18 to 49.

"We'll be in all aspects of men's lives, and this is a downpayment on that commitment," he said. "As we get this message out, those guys that are coming in are watching new programming and that's what working."

Animated ratings

That evening, Spike will also feature a special edition of its series Most Extreme Elimination Challenge, in which contestants and games are named Spike, said network officials.

Hecht said he is "thrilled" with the performance of the net's two-hour Thursday night animated block, which features new and repeat episodes and of the off-Nickelodeon series The Ren & Stimpy Show, the Kelsey Grammer-produced Gary the Rat
and Stripparella, featuring Pam Anderson.

After four weeks, "The Strip" has improved ratings within the network's Thursday 10 p.m.-midnight time period by 40% among men 18 to 49 (a 0.7, 387,000 of those viewers) and 150% among men 18 to 34 (1.0, 261,000), while lowering the median-age viewer from 44 years to 26.

While the block may be improving its demographic performance, overall household ratings for the four shows have declined since their respective June 26 debuts. Through July 17, Gary the Rat's numbers have fallen to a 0.5 after bowing with a 1.1, while Stripperella's have fizzled to a 0.7 from an impressive 1.7.

The Ren & Stimpy Adult Party and classic Ren & Stimpy
numbers have dropped to a 0.5 and a 0.4 from a 1.1 and 0.8, respectively.

Nevertheless, Hecht is bullish on the block. "We took a night that was nonexistent as a primetime destination and we turned it into a primetime destination," he said.

While the network will most likely not expand its animated block beyond two hours, Hecht said the network is developing other adult cartoon shows, including projects from actors John Leguizamo and Wesley Snipes, as well as from Rugrats
creators Klasky Csupo.

Sports plays

Spike will also seek programming partnerships such as the one reached last week with upstart The Football Network. TFN's Fantasy Football 2003 and Football 101 series will run on Spike Saturdays from 9 a.m.-10 a.m. Aug. 30-Dec. 27, with rebroadcast times to be determined.

Last year, the network teamed with Viacom Inc. sibling CBS Sports to create a daily highlight show based on games from the NCAA men's college basketball tournament.

Hecht said the new programming on top of the network's legacy shows should keep Spike TV top of mind for operators, some of whom have questioned the numerous facelifts the network has undergone the last few years.

"This is new to [operators], but the good news is we have [World Wrestling Entertainment's] Raw, CSI, Star Trek and the [James] Bond movies," Hecht said. "About 80 to 90% of our programming is still the hit-driven, must-see programming that makes up the core of what viewers are going to get."

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