Cable programmers and their affiliates don't always see eye to eye, but in the realm of sales-promotion tie-ins, they have a common goal — driving local ad dollars.
The networks, or at least their never-ending branding efforts, benefit from all of the additional exposure. And the ability to generate local-ad sales makes the services that much more valuable to operators and boosts local cable's reputation as an advertising medium.
But some network executives grumble that their value may well explain why too many systems don't report on the success of their promotional partnerships. Affiliates fear that programmers will use that clout against them in future carriage-renewal negotiations, these network executives said.
Despite that undercurrent of suspicion, both sides of this sometimes-uneasy alliance agree that certain elements in these sales promotions tend to score better than others. Here are some of the big earners.
MTV Networks is continuing to see success from its "marquee events," which are "still selling well," said MTV Networks vice president of affiliate ad sales Jason Malamud.
Nickelodeon's Kids' Choice Awards
in April amassed $4 million for affiliates, up from $2.6 million last year. And early June's MTV: Music Television MTV Movie Awards
also promised to score well once all the sales tallies are in, he said.
At least as many operators participated in last year's promotion (130, reaching 46 million subscribers) as in 2001, said Malamud. Thus, he's confident the 2002 promo should equal or top the $3 million in local sales registered at that time.
AT&T Broadband's Cable Advertising of Metro Atlanta interconnect signed the Goody's apparel chain for the Kids' Choice Awards, he said. And Comcast in Union, N.J., sold the Bedroom Concepts furniture retailer to a buy that's 40 percent higher than last year's (with the inclusion of a Blue's Clues
tour and other promotions), he noted.
Those local sales successes, and numerous others, show that "Nick has come a long way from just selling toy stores" and the like at the local level, said Malamud.
MTVN's latest marquee event is the early June CMT: Country Music Television Flameworthy Video Music Awards, he said. The "flameworthy" designation is a reference to stand-out performances that inspire concert-goers to light their lighters.
sweepstakes' grand prize is a trip to Nashville for the event, plus tickets to the annual country-music FanFair and to tapings of two CMT shows, he said.
In the future, the Flameworthy
awards will become an off-the-shelf promotion that will run indefinitely, he added. Trips to two CMT show tapings will still be offered as prizes.
FORD DROVE DEALS
Ford Motor Co. was the national sponsor of the Flameworthy
awards. Affiliates in no fewer than nine markets sold time to Ford dealers, Malamud noted — including two that were new to local cable, such as Time Warner Cable of Tampa.
Tele-Media Inc. in Seymour, Conn., used the promotion to sell a Ford dealership that had left cable years ago, he added.
"The economy still isn't where we'd like it to be," so everyone sees added value as important, said Discovery Networks U.S. director of promotions Beth Meyer.
Affiliates "want to offer tie-ins to events unique to cable, like 'Shark Week' and [on-air Animal Planet personality] Jeff Corwin, to better compete with local broadcast stations," she said. "We want to make sure we're supporting our affiliates" in any ways they require, she added, by incorporating cable-modem promotions or subscriber-acquisition elements.
Travel Channel's key promotion so far this year was tied to its "Beach Week" programming stunt, an online or "virtual" promotion that brought in $600,000 for affiliates, she said. One MSO used that promo and two others from Discovery Networks services to solidify a multimillion-dollar deal from an automotive account, Meyer noted.
Next up for Travel, she said, will be "World's Best Escapes," due in August in 10 markets.
Since April, Discovery Channel has tallied $750,000 in mostly incremental dollars for "Christopher Lowell's Marvelous Makeover." That promo is slated to run into mid-July.
Much of that came from furniture retailers, most notably Flexsteel. That chain represented a built-in lead list because Flexsteel stores carry Lowell's line of furniture, Meyer said.
Animal Planet's "Summer of Adventure with Jeff Corwin" launched in mid-June, with national sponsor Suzuki fully integrated into the promotion and its Aerio SX the grand prize, said Meyer.
FOCUS ON TOP
"Affiliates are focusing on top programs to get premium prices," said A&E Television Networks vice president of local ad sales Andrea Gonzalez.
The History Channel tied a promo into Modern Marvels: Boys' Toys, which proved "a big success for us in the first quarter in targeting the [network's] male audience," she said.
The Boys' Toys
effort helped affiliates break some new clients — including an eye-care retailer for one unspecified system — while also generating incremental revenue from existing accounts in the automotive, technology and consumer-electronics sectors for the 21 participating Comcast Corp. and Time Warner Cable systems, Gonzalez said.
Without divulging dollars, she said AETN considers the effort such a success that it will now be an annual fourth-quarter event, again involving a consumer sweepstakes and internal incentive.
"Affiliates need that type of easy association in this advertising climate," Gonzalez said, adding that Time Warner already is in discussions about "really blowing it out" in terms of the number of systems that will take part.
Another projected winner is A&E Network's The Lost World— a dinosaur-themed miniseries starring Peter Falk and due in October, said Gonzalez. It will also offer A&E affiliates a sweepstakes and incentive program tied into the miniseries.
AETN is now working with several MSOs on the particulars.
Ad-sales officials with several cable operators and interconnects said 2002 will bring several promotions to look forward to.
"The pacing looks good [for the rest of the year]," with attractive events still due, like FX's National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR) coverage; MTV's VMAs, moved into August this year; and USA Network's U.S. Open tennis coverage in late August and September — as well as ESPN's launch of its National Basketball Association package next season — said Time Warner Cable president of ad sales Larry Fischer.
New York Interconnect senior vice president Eglon Simons was among those who praised the sales appeal of network promotions.
Looking ahead, Simons said, the interconnect will pitch campaigns linked to various original movies and series, most notably Sci Fi Channel's Taken — the Steven Spielberg miniseries due in December.
For its part, Comedy Central seems to be going against the typical pattern.
Four years ago, it began its off-channel "Laugh Riots" stand-up comedy competition and promotion with Adlink in Los Angeles. The event has since been expanded into six other markets.
Finalists in this marquee off-channel event will now be featured on an episode of Premium Blend
this fall. In the fall of 2003, Comedy intends to offer the Laugh Riots finale as a stand-alone special, said vice president of affiliate ad sales Kurt Greves.
Laugh Riots last year toted $5 million in local sales from such sponsors as Roundtable Pizza, McDonald's, Toyota, Pontiac, JetBlue, VoiceStream, Jim Ellis Volkswagen and Vehix.com. Aside from Adlink, participants included the New York Interconnect; AT&T in Boston, Chicago and San Francisco; CAMA; and South Florida Cable Advertising, the Miami/Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., interconnect.
Though promotions are generally "always exciting and easy to sell," AT&T Media Services senior vice president Judi Heady said those tied to causes have become more attractive to operators this year.
Heady made specific note of Lifetime Television's breast-cancer awareness campaign and VH1's Divas, which benefits the Save the Music Foundation's drive to support music programs in public schools.
Among the sales promotions that have fared well for Time Warner thus far, Fischer said, was last month's "Be Your Own Hero" from Lifetime. This fall, the MSO will again link up with Lifetime on its breast-cancer awareness effort, including the Women Rock!
MTVN's Malamud said that the latest VH1 Divas
event —Divas Las Vegas
in late May — was expected to at least match last year's $2.4 million in local sales. The latest outing involved affiliates or interconnects in all of the top 50 DMAs, he noted.
Lifetime director of affiliate ad sales and distribution marketing Tracy Barrett said she concentrates her efforts on "two tent-pole promotions" during the year.
The "Be Your Own Hero" campaign, which marked its third year in May, will generate "about $6 million across 43 markets," she estimated. That's up considerably from $4 million a year ago.
A handful of markets tallied $250,000 apiece from local clients, she said, citing AT&T Broadband in Atlanta and Dallas and Time Warner Cable in Charlotte and Raleigh, N.C.
Lifetime's "Stop Breast Cancer for Life" — which focuses its outreach and sweepstakes efforts in September and October — attracts more than 1,000 affiliates. They sell the event on several levels, from cause-related buys to tie-ins to the sweepstakes. The latter's grand prize is a trip to the live Women Rock
concert, she said.
In some cases, affiliates seek to make a local connection to the breast-cancer-awareness effort's national sponsors. For instance, a system might pitch Ford dealerships or retail stores in the Albertson's chain, she noted.
These initiatives have proven successful because they resonate with viewers, said Barrett.
"We didn't search for a pro-social cause that we could build a promotion on," she said. "We listened to what our viewers said was important to them, and made a commitment to those issues. The promotions followed."
ESPN — the longstanding top generator of local-affiliate ad sales — made note of two top draws related to ESPN The Truck: the "Tailgate With the Truck" sweepstakes and the vehicle's nationwide tour, said vice president of affiliate ad sales Jeff Siegel.
The sweepstakes promo, which had amassed $17 million as of late last year, eventually garnered $27 million from more than 450 affiliates in 2001, Siegel estimated. "We're hoping to exceed that this year," he said.
That makes ESPN's Tailgate promotion the biggest in local cable ad sales.
Because of the economy, local advertising promotions have evolved, noted AETN's Gonzalez.
"Affiliates are very event-focused, very localized in seeking ways to bring added value to their advertisers," she said.
AETN is helping affiliates in that regard through its 10-market Biography
mall tour, which offers operators and their clientele signage opportunities. Stops include New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Denver, Seattle, Washington, Boston and Philadelphia.
AT&T Broadband in Denver booked Village Homes, a real-estate agency, as a local Biography
tour sponsor, while CAMA inked a Chrysler auto dealership. One unspecified affiliate is seeking an airline sponsor, she said.
In New York, Time Warner CityCable is pursuing automotive and health-care accounts clients for the tour's mid-June visit, said Gonzalez.
Discovery's goal "always is to drive affiliates' ad revenues," said Meyer, but there are also other considerations. The programmer's promos are also intended to support operators' ancillary sales of cable modems and digital cable; to stand out from the clutter of available network promotions; and to offer systems cable-exclusive opportunities in their markets.
This year, Discovery's Animal Planet will once again offer two mobile marketing tours for affiliate linkups. The interactive "Animal Planet Expo" (formerly "Animal Planet Rescue Expo") will again hit 10 markets from June 21 through Oct. 6, while that network's "ZooVenture" — which offers a live version of the network's show — will again trek to 20 cities through mid-November, Discovery director of local ad sales Mike Van Bergen said.
In just five markets, last year's Expo tallied $400,000 in local ad sales from such segments as pet groomers, veterinary schools, radio stations and auto dealers, he said. For its part, "ZooVenture" notched $200,000 from the likes of malls, restaurants and apparel retailers.
Discovery shares its sales tactics with other operators on such tours — especially those that crack key categories, Meyer noted. "Expo" includes a subscriber-acquisition component, Van Bergen added.
The company now is considering a new tour promotion for 2003, pegged to TLC's Junkyard Wars, Meyer said.
In developing its sales promos, Turner Network Sales aims to meet affiliates' needs and assist in their efforts to attract new clients, said TNS vice president of local ad sales Jerry Ware.
Perhaps TNS's most dramatic push is its "Dinner & a Movie" promotion, designed to draw grocery stores to TBS Superstation affiliates, he said.
"Grocery stores typically are a tough category for cable to crack" since they have been longtime newspaper advertisers, he explained.
Since its kickoff last November, he said such chains as Kroger, Winn-Dixie and Publix have been pitched on the Dinner & a Movie link, but no sales deals have come in as yet, Ware said.
Those participating include the New York Interconnect; AT&T in Boston and San Francisco; Comcast in Detroit; Cox in New Orleans; and Charter in St. Louis, he said.
The 10-market push is slated to run through March, but "we recognize this is going to be a more long-term effort" than the vendor-support program initiated on behalf of Turner Network Television affiliates last year. It probably will become a multiyear commitment, he noted.
The TNT initiative, tied to its "Saturday Night New Classics" film package and the premiere of You've Got Mail, generated $1.3 million-plus across MSOs in eight markets.
Finding promos that click in a tough ad-sales environment can be hard work, said one network executive.
"Everybody [at the affiliate level] is working very hard, keeping their nose to the grindstone in a tough environment over the past year and a half," said Bravo senior vice president of local ad sales John Duff.
Bravo offers its affiliates an opportunity to bring in new categories that aren't typically pursued at the local level, such as museums and art galleries, according to Duff.
The film and arts network's overall increase in original programming has delivered stronger, more upscale ratings for Bravo affiliates, he added. Its two affiliate sales promotions — tied to Inside the Actors Studio
and the Cirque du Soleil — have "gone well" with respect to bringing in local dollars, he added.
The promotions are running in about 12 markets and their respective prizes —a trip to Studio's Manhattan taping and to Canada to attend Cirque du Soleil's newest show — are "unique to our channel," said Duff. " Neither event is accessible to the general public."
Duff noted that Bravo's insertable-subscriber count rose 3.5 million so far this year, to nearly 44 million.