Whether they're customizing new sales efforts for co-branding, developing turnkey programs or trotting out evergreen promotions, cable networks are paying more attention to what operators and interconnects want to include in those offerings.
Affiliates want "evergreen promotions that they can use whenever needed" to help sell against broadcast, said Hallmark Channel senior vice president of distribution and service Ron Garfield.
Through focus groups, operators have also stated a preference for "promotions that are customized with MSO and advertiser logos," said NBC Cable Networks vice president of local ad sales Brian Hunt. Thus, a 30-second spot must typically devote 23 seconds to the promotion and seven seconds to tag information, he noted.
More local prizes
Many affiliates have also made it known that they want more local prizes — not just one national grand-prize winner — to trigger sales promotions.
Travel Channel's recent "Beach Week" is a case in point. The promotion, which ran from mid-April into early May, attracted 175 participants, versus 50 last year.
The increase stemmed not only from the programming stunt's solid ratings, but from the fact that its sweepstakes offered such valuable local prizes as trips to Miami's South Beach or San Diego's Coronado Beach, according to Discovery Networks U.S. director of local ad sales Mike Van Bergen.
Besides proffering the national grand prize — a Holland America cruise to several of the world's best beaches, as ranked during Beach Week — the first 25 system sign-ups received a "Beach TV." That's a handheld, water-resistant color TV, also to give away to subs.
The promotion delivered more than $750,000 in ad sales to affiliates via the expected category participants, such as airlines and some tourism boards, plus such nontraditional clients as patio furniture retailers and fast food outlets, Van Bergen noted.
More than 200 systems are taking part in Discovery Channel's "Chris Lowell's Marvelous Makeover," with early projections already halfway to last year's $1 million in local sales.
For this effort, local prizes — $1,000 worth of merchandise from Flexsteel's Chistopher Lowell Home Collection — were also a big draw in each affiliate market. Nationally, the top prize is a one-on-one consultation with Lowell, plus $5,000 toward redecorating the winner's home.
Next, Discovery will offer the "Monster Garage
Gear Grinding Sweepstakes," running from Aug. 15 through Sept. 30. It features a trip to the series' Los Angeles set to the national winner, plus a guaranteed local prize — a "monster-sized" overhaul of the winners' car radio, plus a year's subscription to XM Satellite Radio, Van Bergen said.
Operators should pitch sporting-goods stores on the Monster
promotion, as well as auto and motorcycle dealers and automotive-aftermarket advertisers, Van Bergen said.
On the kids' front, Disney Channel will once again offer a "Playhouse Disney A to Z" local sales promotion, tied to the preschool series Stanley, in July and August.
The national grand prize will again be a $26,000 scholarship, but ABC Cable Networks Group director of local ad sales Ron Hebshie said that in each of the 30 markets, there will now be two large toyboxes containing DVD players, movies and toys.
The subsequent "A-to-Z" marketing promotion will offer computers and a year of Internet access as the top local prizes, Hebshie said.
Operator feedback has suggested that sweepstakes promotions — especially those with entry points at the retail point of sale — work best, said AMC executive vice president of affiliate sales and marketing Kim Martin.
To that end, WE: Women's Entertainment went with a contest tied to its "Me Time Day" promotion last March. WE offered the first 20 affiliate signees a spa gift certificate worth up to $20,000 as the top national prize, and gift certificates of lesser value as local prizes.
AMC's "DVD TV Much More Movie Sweepstakes" — tied to the June 22 showing of an enhanced version of Ghost
— features a home-entertainment system as the national prize. On the local level, an Apple Macintosh computer, digital video camera and movie-making software are available to the 30 participating affiliates, said Martin.
Later this year, this program will be made evergreen for other affiliates to use beyond June. At that point, Martin said it will be renamed the "TV for Movie People Sweepstakes," with participating retailers providing the prizes.
For its part, AMC will contribute a universal remote control and a blanket.
ABC Family's annual "25 Days of Christmas" programming stunt went beyond the usual auto dealers in landing banks and hospitals, among other categories, ABC Cable's Hebshie noted.
That effort, a holdover from the network's days as Fox Family Channel, will return, he said, but under a new name.
Its other big time-locked stunt, "13 Days of Halloween," won't be back this fall, falling victim to a dearth of fresh programming. Hebshie conceded that AMC holds the rights to most of the classic horror films, while newer titles in the vein of the Halloween
franchise are "too gory" for Family. (AMC is currently working on this year's version of "MonsterFest.")
Instead of Halloween, ABC Family will switch to a summer promotion tied to the new series Dance Fever. There will be an 18-market mall tour, with local prizes in each market. The top national prize will be a trip to the finale of the show, a revival of the 1980s syndication staple.
Even though it's commercial-free, sister network Disney Channel has run affiliates in events that are somewhat program-driven, such as local ad-sales screenings of the recently released Lizzie McGuire Movie
Hallmark Channel helps its affiliates ring up local ad sales via program-specific promotions. The network's "Great Stories Sweepstakes" is linked to its original-movies strategy.
During early May, the program was beta-tested by Mediacom Communications Corp.'s OnMedia unit in Des Moines, Iowa. It helped sell four annual packages to three clients at three times Hallmark's usual rate, senior director of distribution services Rita Caprino said.
Those accounts included a high-end furniture store, a jeweler and a heating and cooling firm, she added.
Since Hallmark's audience is more than 60% female, more local clients are looking to include it in packages with Lifetime Television, Food Network or Home & Garden Television, for instance, Garfield said.
Moreover, the network — which should be insertable in 15 million homes by year-end — works with family-oriented clients, because there are "no content issues," Garfield said. Along those lines, the "Hallmark Hall of Fame
Collection" of off-net specials is enabling affiliates to pitch "prestigious clients against broadcasters."
Adding to the local luster: CBS, which first airs the specials, doesn't sell local time during its Hall of Fame
NBC Cable's Hunt said Bravo would continue to offer its two local sales promotions (begun under Rainbow Media Holdings Inc. ownership), linked to Cirque du Soleil
and Inside the Actors Studio.
Affiliates can use these promotions in three different ways — tied to a consumer sweepstakes, with a trip to a taping as the grand prize; as a motivational program for sales staffers; or as a client-incentive initiative — said Hunt.
Just days after its release, Bravo's Actors Studio
sweepstakes got "its first bite, at Comcast, San Francisco," where Copenhagen Furniture Stores signed on. The promotion will begin there in August.
Lifetime vice president of affiliate ad sales and distribution marketing Tracy Barrett said the network's two tentpole campaigns still spring's "Be Your Own Hero" and fall's "Stop Breast Cancer for Life."
But the network will bow a first sales promotion on behalf of its fledgling Lifetime Movie Network. "Go Hollywood,"set to run from Aug. 11 to Aug. 24, offers a national grand prize — a trip to a Hollywood film premiere — along with local "scratch-and-win" instant winners, who will get an LMN-branded picture frame.
This promotion is part of a multi-step program to boost ad sales on LMN, which now counts 10 million insertable homes, said Barrett. Fifteen markets have signed on — some of which offer LMN on analog basic and others with digital distribution, she noted.
ABC Cable's fledgling SoapNet will next year offer its first time-locked promotion, a "Soap Opera Digest
Awards Sweepstakes," Hebshie said.
The Weather Channel now has two annual sales promotions, said director of affiliate ad sales Alex Dombronovich: one in January, tied to the bow of its nightly series Storm Stories; and one in April, linked to "Storm Week," which ran for a third year.
The Storm Stories
promotion was limited to the top 12 markets and topped by a trip to South Beach, Fla. "Storm Week's" sweepstakes had participants in the top 40 DMAs.
For the latter, affiliates could score points based on their subscriber counts, then cash those in for prizes on Weather's "online store," she said.
At Comcast's Cable Advertising of Metro Atlanta interconnect, marketing manager Kelly Crane said it signed the Atlanta Dodge dealer group for the Storm Stories
promotion. That not only added value to CAMA's sales packages but enabled the interconnect to better position itself against local TV stations, said Crane.
Categories ranged from boating stores to home-improvement stores, Dombronovich noted. In addition to planning an off-the-shelf version of its Storm Stories
promo, Weather is "definitely looking at a shelf promotion tied to our weekend programming."
Charter Media in Birmingham, Ala. also used Weather programming to score with new client Varisosis & Laser Center. That account's very first spot sparked 10 phone inquiries within 30 minutes, a Charter official reported, inspiring a longer schedule.
Mixing things up, Lifetime's "Hero" campaign replaced the sweepstakes with a "Hometown Heroes" concept, Barrett said. Local advertisers in the 43 participating markets were able to sponsor these heroes, saluted during the
Lifetime's Achievement Awards
special on May 22.
Even without a sweepstakes, Barrett said, "We're on track to meet [last year's $6 million-plus in local revenue] this year."
Adelphia, BrightHouse Networks, Charter, Cox, Comcast, Insight Communications Co. and Time Warner Cable were among the Hero affiliate partners, she added. The network supplied point-of-sale materials and handouts with advice on how to raise girls' and women's self-esteem.
Besides honoring local women, this campaign enables operators to "tap into Lifetime's brand equity to generate local ad sales revenue and break new categories," Barrett said.
The programmer's breast-cancer awareness campaign, entering its ninth year, should again draw more than 1,000 affiliates, she said. But it will also have a new element: "Flexibility for affiliates, who can use the trip to the Women Rock!
concert special to send an advertiser or account exec," she said.
"Access to exclusive cable events" — from ESPN's ESPY Awards
to Lifetime's Women Rock!
— is another way in which affiliates can outdo local TV or radio stations or newspapers, she continued.
In another relatively new twist aimed at helping operators sign Latino advertisers, Lifetime has designed Hispanic promotional materials for its tentpole promotions.
"We're doing both PSAs and printed materials in Spanish," Barrett said.
Also on that front, CAMA's Crane said that interconnect has been stepping up its use of Latino-flavored promotions, including one from Telemundo that recently drew Buford Farmers Market.
That increase came because Univision switched its Atlanta distribution from cable to an over-the-air affiliate, she said.
Others, like MTV Networks vice president of affiliate ad sales Jason Malamud, report that their affiliates seem to prefer an online-entry option, since their viewers skew younger.