Nets on Promos: We Release, You Decide

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Although a number of cable networks' local-sales executives were miffed at MSO officials who complained during a recent industry panel about being inundated with too many promotions, the programmers are continuing to develop new concepts and refine old ones.

The panel, at the Cabletelevision Advertising Bureau's recent local-sales conference in Orlando, Fla., featured executives from Adelphia Media Services, Comcast Corp. and Time Warner Cable.

As officials at Discovery Networks U.S., MTV Networks, Lifetime Television and other programmers said, their goal in creating these promotions is to help operators increase local dollars and that it's up to MSOs to select the ones they feel will best do that.

Reasoning that it's better to proffer too many programs, rather than too few concepts to work with, several networks are serving up new promo tie-ins.

And responding to another affiliate gripe, some programmers also are either introducing or improving their affiliate Web sites.

The CAB's vice president of local sales and marketing Kevin Barry said ad sales account for 6 percent to 8 percent of an operator's annual revenues, trailing only basic- and premium-cable subscriptions. Of the three, "It [ad sales] has been the fastest-growing — until this year," he said. "It's trending to pass premium in the next couple of years."

VIGNETTES AND TOURS

To help maintain that momentum, MTV Networks has developed several new ways that operators can lure local clients, beginning later this year. These range from promotions linked to a "My VH1 Prime Time" summertime program block containing movies and such series as Story Tellers
and Behind the Music, as well as other programs tied to the My VH1 Music Awards
during the fourth quarter.

For its part, Nickelodeon will offer affiliates the chance to link with various vignettes commemorating Rugrats 10thAnniversary Moments
in the third quarter and Jimmy Neutron Movie Moments
in the fourth quarter. The latter will be tied to the animated series and movie, which will debut in theaters later this year.

"Affiliates rarely have the opportunity to sell sponsorships in individual Nick programs," said MTVN vice president of affiliate ad sales Jason Malamud of these featurettes.

Similarly, Nick at Nite will offer programming briefs pegged to the second-, third- and fourth-quarter premieres of Family Ties, Diff'rent Strokes
and Cheers, respectively.

In other moves, Nick's off-the-shelf "Studio Tour" promo will offer trips to its Nicktoons Studio, rather than the network's traditional site at Universal Studios in Orlando. The "MTV Studio Tour" brought in $2 million last year, which Malamud termed "a surprise."

Somewhat inspired by that, Country Music Television will have one of its big touring trucks produce live programming from the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville. "There's a fortune in local advertising spent on country radio," he said, and CMT is aiming to grab a greater share.

In addition, MTVN is touting sales tie-in opportunities with "Aaron's Party," a Nickelodeon "TEENick" summer concert tour, starring Aaron Carter and sponsored by the Islands of the Bahamas. Nick is offering local interactive exhibit space and sponsorable pavilions.

DINOSAURS AND CROCODILES

Discovery Networks will reach back in time to help local affiliates push ahead with local ad sales. Discovery Channel's When Dinosaurs Roamed America
promotion is tied to the network's mid-July primetime special.

Other promotions, meanwhile, are linked to evergreen promos. Travel Channel's "World's Best Escapes," is tied to the network's World's Best
series, while Animal Planet's "Catch Croc Fever" will try to take a bite from budgets by playing off the popular Crocodile Hunter
series. Last year, the latter led AT&T Broadband in Denver alone to book a local restaurant to a $180,000 annual contract buy, according to Discovery Networks U.S. executives.

Adlink rarely uses off-the-shelf promos, but the Los Angeles interconnect picked up an Animal Planet promo from Discovery Networks in May. Adlink then customized the program to suit its local needs, said Mike Van Bergen, Discovery Networks director of local ad sales.

To boost such promos' value to the sponsor, "Adlink enhances the prize package, the method of entry or both, as with Animal Planet's 'Croc Fever Sweepstakes,'" said director of promotional marketing Doug Smoller. In this case, the sponsor was San Diego Wild Animal Park.

Animal Planet offered one grand prize (a trip to Australia) nationally, but Adlink ensured that one of its entrants in the L.A. DMA would win by offering its own Australia trip, he said. Smoller noted that the client guaranteed the first prize — four free passes to the Wild Animal Park. Adlink also set up a toll-free phone number and special Web site as means by which consumers could enter the sweepstakes, rather than typical in-store displays, he added.

COMEDY CONNECTIONS

The interconnect's next evergreen promo will be Comedy Central's "Daily Show
Big Shot Sweepstakes" in October, he disclosed. The big twist there will come from printing entry forms on the tops of 1.2 million pizza boxes for sponsor Pizza Hut, Smoller said. As with the "Croc Fever" Web site, the box design will incorporate elements from both the network and the sponsor.

To lift local sales, Comedy Central has also devised an idea that goes beyond promotions. The programmer, which last year targeted auto dealership ads with a contest run in Automotive News
on its affiliates' behalf, next will target the restaurant and fast-food categories via Nation's Restaurant Business.

The network offered as top prize in its auto contest a $5,000 local cable buy to the owner or general manager of the auto dealer whose name was drawn from those who filled out an entry blank in the trade ad.

The aim of these contests, as Comedy Central vice president of ad sales Kurt Greves explained in a recent letter campaign to affiliates, is to give these companies "that extra nudge to either advertise on cable for the first time, or to increase their spending level."

Comedy's creativity in affiliate-ad sales was rewarded at the CAB Local confab with a network achievement award, an honor the channel has now won three of the past four years. NCC also won a CAB award for its Snapple spot-market sale, which Greves also helped develop.

WEAVING THE WEB

Networks are also buttressing their promotional presence via the Internet. Toon Disney and SoapNet will join sister network ESPN by establishing affiliate-oriented ad-sales Web sites. ESPN officials pointed to a Bortz & Co. study, conducted last year, which showed that the "NFL drag effect" helped drive ad revenues to other cable networks besides ESPN.

In a giveaway booklet, Toon Disney told affiliates that "Disney's all-toon channel" has commitments that will soon lift its distribution by 10 million to 30 million homes, and that 87 percent of its schedule is available in Spanish via a secondary audio programming feed.

ESPN has given out a 56-page booklet detailing its "ESPN2 Local Sports Break," a half-hour weekly sales and marketing opportunity. Among the success stories: in San Jose, Calif., AT&T focuses its local show on behind-the-scenes aspects of the National Hockey League's San Jose Sharks; in Jacksonville, Fla., the MSO offers a "potpourri of local sports features" under the title Saturday Morning SportsJam.

For its part, Fox Family Channel has completely overhauled its own affiliate Web site, foxfamilyaffiliates.com, making it more user-friendly and allowing systems to communicate directly with its regional sales staff. The network also will offer its new "Target Your Pitch" program, whereby affiliates can use a customized database to match their ad-sales and audience priorities with the appropriate Fox Family programming.

The network's president of distribution John Burns also said that Fox Family is adding a Father's Day promotion, joining its two previous time-locked tie-ins, "13 Days of Halloween" and "25 Days of Christmas."

Elsewhere, Oxygen Media has more than doubled its insertable-subscriber count to nearly 3 million since last March. Its 1.4 million-subscriber uptick came with such recent additions as Cox Communications Inc.'s San Diego system and AT&T Broadband's Denver, Dallas and Salt Lake City systems.

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