Nat Geo Takes Manhattan, Other Boroughs

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National Geographic Channel — the last network to grab rare analog space on Time Warner Cable's New York City system in 2002 — this week will launch that DMA's first big cable-marketing campaign of 2003.

From now until month's end, NGC will tout its new place on cable's largest single system, which serves some 1 million households, through adventure-oriented events and stunts.

The network will deploy cross-channel avails, along with print, theater and outdoor ads to let viewers know the service has arrived, said NGC executive vice president for marketing Steve Schiffman. He pegged the cost of the effort at a few million dollars.

Although the campaign takes off nearly three weeks after NGC's debut — it replaced a shared channel that offered barker material during the day and adult service Spice at night — the promotion delay was intentional.

Executives from the channel, co-owned by Fox Cable Networks Group and the National Geographic Society, wanted to avoid a marketing trap so close to Christmas, while using January to both celebrate the New York City clearance and mark the channel's second anniversary.

"Quite honestly, you can't get anyone's attention around the holiday season," conceded NGC president Laureen Ong. "Everyone is doing personal things and traveling.

"[January] is a wide-open time to deliver a message. People come back from the holidays and are inclined to watch TV, so the usage level goes up."

The message the campaign hopes to hammer home is one of environment: While nature and geography exploration shows from NGC and other sources are scattered about the TV dial, this kind of programming is always available on the network.

"We're driving home there's a destination to view this kind of programming. Hopefully, the eureka factor kicks in, where people see there's a new cool place they can go."

With the New York launch, NGC now reaches 40 million households, and has operator commitments to be in at least 57 million households by the end of 2004.

Explorers and reptiles

The adventurous piece of NGC's drive starts Jan. 11, when the Kratt brothers, popular nature-TV personalities, will conduct animal showcases at the Central Park Zoo. The following week, sports-and-entertainment complex Chelsea Piers plays home to a demonstration based on the series Surviving West Point.

A West Point drill sergeant will challenge passers-by to experience some of the Point's most rigorous workouts.

Elsewhere, five people costumed as deep-sea divers, astronauts and other explorer types will travel Manhattan via streets, buses and subways to help spread the message. Separately, Brady Barr, a high-school teacher who hosts Reptile Wild
on the network, will tour some schools selected by Time Warner Cable. A crocodile may be in tow, Schiffman suggested.

Time Warner's participation in the campaign was still being worked out at press time, Schiffman said. "They've indicated they would make a best effort to help us with additional cross-channel spots, above and beyond our media buy," he explained.

Media scorecard

NGC is placing its wave of cross-channel spots through the Metro Cable Marketing Co-Op, using Cable News Network, ESPN and "the usual suspects you can imagine," said Schiffman.

Broadcast promotions will appear all month long during local segments of CBS's The Early Show, NBC's Today
and ABC's Good Morning America, plus Good Day New York on Fox affiliate WNYW and The WB11 Morning News over WPIX.

About 130 movie theaters will feature an NGC trailer before their main attraction, while 150 phone and bus kiosks will display scenes from shows.

Up to nine local radio stations will be used for the launch drive, to consist of spot buys in morning and late afternoon periods as well as some merchandise tie-ins.

Some elements of the campaign may find their way to other cities in 2003, suggested Ong, but don't look for an all-out drive in Chicago, Los Angeles or elsewhere.

"This place is so big, you have to blow it out," she said. "This is the exception, the one with all the bells and whistles attached, just because it's New York."