This is the second in a two-part series about how the
"Big Four" broadcast networks are trying to stem audience erosion. The networks
are relying on a barrage of promotions, targeting both advertisers and viewers. Part one
focused on the advertisers. This week, Multichannel News senior editor Jim Forkan
reports on what each of the networks are doing to lure back those who have defected to
cable, to other broadcast outlets, or even to the Internet.
All of the TV networks are leaning heavily on humor in
their fall promos, as a way to build relationships with their viewing public.
Moreover, with men representing an elusive audience segment
in primetime, the TV networks plan to use their NFL platforms as a way to promote
male-appeal series elsewhere on the schedule.
Cable executives, however, were unimpressed by the
The major broadcasters have been too caught up in tune-in
advertising and not enough in identifying or branding themselves, said Pat Esser, vice
president of ad sales at Cox Communications Inc.
The possible exceptions, he said, are Fox and, to a lesser
degree, NBC, with its "Must-See TV" campaigns.
Matthew Blank, chairman and CEO of Showtime Networks Inc.,
felt that NBC may have undercut its flagship brand's strength with its MSNBC and CNBC
Turning to ABC, Blank found it "interesting" that
executives from that network were mulling over whether to rebrand its Monday Night
Football franchise with the ESPN name earlier this spring. Were ABC to go ahead with
that, he said, it would be an admission that the ESPN brand was "more
meaningful" to sports fans. Ultimately, ABC decided against going that route this
fall, undoubtedly due in part to affiliate resistance.
Douglas McCormick, president and CEO at Lifetime
Television, doubted that the broadcast networks could truly brand themselves, since they
must be "all things to all people."
He also questioned the wisdom of the May sweeps stunt that
saw Fox's Ally McBeal and
ABC's The Practice cross-promote each other.
"It was good for [producer] David Kelley's brand," rather than for those
networks' brands, McCormick said.
ABC will offer new twists on its yellow-hued campaign of
last year, this time steering away from cynicism and toward fun -- "A Celebration of
TV," as Alan Cohen, executive vice president of marketing, put it.
The idea is "to break through the clutter ... with our
distinct yellowness [and to] stand out in a sea of 100-plus channels," he said.
"We sort of own the color yellow now."
Off-channel, ABC has partnered with General Motors Corp. in
hopes that 95 percent of adults 18 to 49 will become aware of its fall-season premieres,
and that the average adult will have seen its image promos 44 times by premiere week.
ABC's salvos will range from on-air promos; to print,
radio and out-of-home ads; to such offbeat tactics as placing stickers on 30 million
bananas sold in supermarkets and placing table cards in restaurants. Those venues will
reach prospective viewers "where people work, eat, play and drink," Cohen added.
As an incentive to get viewers to pay attention to all of
that marketing, there will be a sweepstakes whereby GM will give away 200 Oldsmobile
Aleros, or one winner per TV market, Cohen said.
Last year's "TV Is Good" effort "really
boosted our awareness" well above previous levels, Cohen said, and that helped
premieres to get sampling and helped to make Dharma & Greg a hit. But that show
was ABC's only surviving newcomer, as various ad executives and rival networks
pointed out. Last year's quirky effort was meant to "get attention, and it
worked ... You can't really create a brand overnight," said Cohen, a former NBC
marketing executive. "Our brand is as much our shows as it is the network."
The new yellow image promos say things like: "Without
a TV, how would you know where to put the sofa?" "Gives motel-owners something
to brag about" and "If TV is so bad for you, why is there one in every hospital
Another offbeat series of "surf-stoppers" is
called "ABC Cheap Cinema Theater," during which stick figures act out mini-plots
of popular feature films like Titanic and The English Patient, so that
viewers can "skip the theater and watch more TV."
In other instances, "We're packaging our promos
in new and entertaining ways ... to make [viewers] less likely to reach for their
remotes," Cohen said.
One package, "Reasons Why We Love TV," assembles
various series clips under a single heading, like "Superfluous Dance" (with
dance scenes from Dharma & Greg and The Drew Carey Show).
Other promos take the direct approach, with series regulars
like Dennis Franz of NYPD Blue talking directly to viewers in "My Favorite
Episode" vignettes -- the intent being to correct an ABC shortcoming and to
"build a relationship with viewers," Cohen said.
ABC intends to build awareness early, especially for
Tuesdays and Saturdays, and for its movie-night shift from Sunday to Thursday.
"Don't bother looking for these blockbusters [Mission Impossible, Romeo
& Juliet, The Rock] on ABC on Sunday this fall," says its movie promo,
while a Fantasy Island promo with Malcolm McDowell promises, "This is not the
same old trip."
Cohen, who estimated the value of ABC's on-air promo
time for primetime and all other dayparts at "$700 million to $800 million,"
promised that there will be more emphasis on its stars in the promos, and sooner, than
last year, when ABC didn't have many "smart, irreverent shows" that would
work with this approach.
CBS "needs to attract a younger audience," said
Ogilvy & Mather's fall report, echoing a common agency refrain. Bolstered by
regaining the NFL, CBS now plans to expand beyond its base 25-to-54 audience to lure
"more urban, more male, younger-skewing" viewers with its new programming.
As CBS Television president Leslie Moonves told affiliates
this winter, "The NFL will add male viewers and make us younger," skewing more
18-to-49 than 25-to-54.
"Young men deserted us four years ago," Moonves
said, adding that CBS "got a lot older and a lot more female" when Fox snagged
the NFL rights, and that it now intends to reverse those trends.
George Schweitzer, executive vice president of marketing
and communications for CBS, said a hefty share of its upcoming fall promotion will go
toward two key franchises: 60 Minutes and the NFL.
In many instances, the two will in effect be co-branded.
While continuing its "The Address Is CBS ... Welcome Home" theme for the third
year, he said, CBS will present livelier, more contemporary on-air computer graphics,
ranging from particle animation to video morph-zooms.
Its image campaign employs more humor than in the past,
with spots that feature Satan and mobsters, for example. The latter, which are already
running, purport to be mob-surveillance tapes in which the gang members talk about Touched
by an Angel and The Nanny.
Other spots include one targeted at baby boomers that
incorporates hit-song titles and one that mocks TV's habit of copying successes by
showing three programmers assembling a new sitcom by computer. Two other spots are built
around the idea, "Finally, TV so good that people actually make excuses just to stay
home" and watch such shows as Touched, Nanny and Everybody Loves
CBS is putting considerable attention behind the return of
the NFL to the network. One promo features New York Jets coach Bill Parcells asking his
players, "Haven't you ever seen the 'Eye formation' before?"
after having drawn the CBS logo.
Several other spots tout the "NFL on CBS --
that's the way it should be." Some promos mix NFL action with David Letterman,
CBS News' Dan Rather and the stars of several shows.
Off-channel, Schweitzer said, CBS has forged partnerships
with American Airlines and Target Stores to contribute to building fall-lineup awareness
and sampling. The airline's captive audience -- "baby boomers, business
travelers and families" -- will see sample primetime, sports and news programs on the
in-flight video magazine, CBS Eye on American, as well as promos for the fall
schedule, he said. He estimated that the magazine series will be seen by 2.1 million
passengers per month.
Another component in this alliance will be a "Million
Mile Monday" promotion, whereby CBS viewers can win 1 million frequent-flyer miles on
American, he added.
Target's 800 stores will promote "CBS Sneak
Peek" party packs, via both in-store signage and newspaper circulars, in time for the
"back-to-school" shopping season, Schweitzer said.
CBS will use the Internet to plug its fall lineup -- both
its own Web site and that of American Airlines.
George Greenberg, executive vice president of marketing for
Fox Broadcasting Co., said Fox plans an early fall tune-in promo push.
"You've got to get the message out early to
gather the GRPs [gross rating points]" during the summer season -- which, he
conceded, has become "primetime for cable."
But, he said, Fox will also "get off our own air,
since we don't want to preach to the choir." In the past, that's meant
making some cable-network buys.
Fox will rely on some marketing alliances of its own to
bolster awareness, Greenberg said. Emphasizing that sponsor tie-ins "have to be
organic -- a good fit to a show," he said, Fox has renewed links with Polaroid Corp.
and Dr Pepper, and it has added a new tie-in with The Gap.
Fox's big fall gamble involves moving King of the
Hill from Sunday to Tuesday night -- to do battle with ABC's Home Improvement
and NBC's Mad About You, which are both slipping. The Gap will help Fox to
promote that with "updates on whether Hank is going to L.A. or not," Greenberg
said. Fox plans to move King to Tuesdays, with back-to-back repeats, as of July 28.
Polaroid's "See What Develops" spots, to
promote the story lines of Party of Five and Melrose Place, have proven
effective, he said, as have Dr Pepper's "Just One Fox" spots.
Greenberg said Fox didn't spend as much as ABC did on
its yellow branding campaign, but Fox's proved more successful: In one of the
season's big upsets, Fox passed ABC among adults 18 to 49.
While Cohen said ABC's yellow campaign was
"probably the most-talked-about [TV] campaign" last season, Greenberg countered
that it "didn't do them any good last year," because "they had nothing
to back it up with" in programming.
Off-air, Fox again will spend "a significant amount of
money on print, specifically TV Guide," as well as on radio and outdoor,
"Skywriting? Probably not," Greenberg said,
adding that he is nonetheless open to going off the beaten path. Last season, for
instance, Fox used coffee-cart signage to promote King of the Hill in New York.
Fox also partnered with Universal Studios' theme parks
to promote Roar and, although that show didn't click, he said he'd like
to try a similar promotion this year for a newcomer, Hollyweird.
"The Peacock Network," which continued to lead
the Nielsen Media Research pack in both total homes and adults 18 to 49, is also getting
its promo momentum going early, although executives were unavailable at press time to
NBC has announced that its marketing partners for the fall
will be Revlon, Clairol, United Airlines and Barq's Root Beer.
Revlon will support a watch-and-win sweepstakes involving
NBC returnees Frasier, Mad About You, Just Shoot Me and Caroline
in the City. And Clairol will sponsor a multipage ad insert in the September issue of Vogue,
plugging NBC's fall slate.
NBC's "only true comedy hit" from last fall
was Veronica's Closet, but O&M and other agencies felt that it remains to
be seen whether that show can stand on its own -- it followed Seinfeld last year.
NBC, not yet ready to test that premise, instead is keeping it as a time-period hit,
sandwiched between Frasier and ER.
NBC, "without Seinfeld as a launch pad for new
comedy concepts, and without football as a promotion platform to boost sampling, faces a
whole new set of challenges," O&M's report said.
NBC has already been running promos themed "It's
New to You" for the second year, in hopes that viewers will look at the rerun-laden
summer doldrums not as a negative, but as an opportunity to catch episodes that they may
have missed. NBC cited Nielsen data indicating that viewers saw about 40 percent of even
top-rated series like ER.
That concept didn't really click last summer, though,
as network ratings slumped dramatically.
The major TV networks, of course, won't be the only
ones expending promo ammunition this summer and fall.
Paxson Communications Corp.'s forthcoming broadcast
network, Pax Net -- something of a hybrid, in the sense that cable systems will help to
lift its coverage from 72 percent to 77 percent -- promises hefty on-air and off-channel
promotion in advance of its Aug. 31 launch.
Addressing the Pax Net New York upfront audience of
advertisers and agencies this past spring, Lea Sloan, Paxson's senior vice president
of marketing and promotion, claimed that the upstart will spend more money in the fourth
quarter than any other network -- "many tens of millions [of dollars] to touch the
viewers who'll be touched by our programs."
For their part, agency buyers questioned whether Pax Net
could outspend its bigger rivals.
In a move that hints that Pax Net may be reworking its
introductory campaign, Paxson has signed Steve Sohmer, who oversaw NBC's campaigns in
the 1980s, as a marketing consultant.
On the ad-sales side, Pax Net plans an incentive trip to
Super Bowl XXXIII to bolster its success as "broadcasting's seventh
At the recent Promax/BDA International conference, Lewis
Goldstein and Robert Bibb, vice presidents at The WB Television Network, said its promos
will again include the animated Michigan J. Frog character and the "dubba dubba"
phrase, but its series stars will be in the forefront, so that icon will be less prominent
The executives, taking issue with those who said Frog does
not play well with viewers over 30, said WB research indicated that it scores well among
those 18 to 34.
United Paramount Network -- which fell behind The WB in
last season's Nielsens, and also in upfront ad sales for the coming season -- plans a
marketing campaign that's broader in appeal than its previous urban-skewed efforts.
Representatives of middle America will be depicted in the spots, themed, "You'll
Find Yourself on UPN." Helping UPN to spread its word will be marketing ally Delta