Trio Readies to Drive Another 'Tentpole'


New York— Trio is settling into a rhythm, presenting one month of themed programming per quarter — but the Universal Television Group-owned popular arts channel's promotion of such fare has been anything but settled.

With two campaigns under its belt, and another set for December, Trio wants to keep surprising its audience, advertisers and diginet competitors. With respect to marketing, the goal of these theme months, which its executives call "tentpoles," is to break through the clutter.

"Each of these tentpoles has an underlying focus that has us go big and drive the brand," said Trio marketing vice president Jason Klarman. "Whether that tentpole is our take on music, or our take on TV, as you get each piece of the puzzle our big picture comes clear.

"And when you deal with a lot of competition in this medium, you have to get your big picture noticed in a strong way."

That big picture, as expressed by network president Lauren Zalaznick during a press briefing here last week, is framed in terms of pop-culture entertainment and continuity.

"We're clear that there's a gap in the TV landscape that we can step in and fill," said the basic-cable programming veteran. "We're not afraid to be a curator, a barometer of culture trends, or a style-setter.

"The marketing effort needs to continue in that vein. Check us out, and we'll deliver this all month long … then check us in other months, and we'll be strong there too."

Over the last six months, Klarman has spent much of his time trumpeting Trio's June censorship programming and its August concert blitz, nicknamed "Hot Summer Nights." For both, Trio engaged national cross-channel promotion time on fellow Universal Television-owned services USA Network and Sci Fi Channel, plus spot avails in several markets.

Showy on streets

But the network's main promotional efforts have been outdoor advertising and street-team stunts — largely in New York, where Time Warner Cable's local system distributes Trio to some 500,000 digital customers.

In June, subway posters, bus stations and telephone kiosks carried images of Michaelangelo's David statue bearing Trio's theme, with a black bar with "censored" draped across David's private parts. Teams of white-painted male models walked around Manhattan, passing out copies of the First Amendment with Trio's schedule on the back. And a SoHo art gallery presented scenes from the censorship programming, which Trio displayed on its Web site (

The campaign drew mostly positive buzz, but a David ad in The New York Times
was altered at the paper's request, so that no words were on the black bar.

"Still, it made the campaign's point very well," said Klaman. "One person's art is another person's offense. Overall, outdoor has got a lot of resonance and has people finding our message in unexpected places."

In August, transit and telephone billboards were covered with posters plugging "Hot Summer Nights," while a street team traveled to local bars via go-kart to generate interest. Trio also staged an India.Arie concert in Bryant Park, drawing about 12,000 fans.

Music from artists featured during the month were carried on a number of Web sites affiliated with Trio parent Vivendi Universal S.A., including and Rolling

Getting classical

New York-area promotions are emphasized because it represents the No. 1 DMA and the center of the advertising industry, Klarman said. Trio — which now reaches some 17 million digital-cable and satellite households — declined to disclose its marketing outlays.

The flavor of Trio's month of December is classic television — specifically, short-lived wonders. Much of the month will be devoted to "Brilliant, but Cancelled TV" series which lasted one season or less.

Featured material includes segments from two 1950s Ernie Kovacs series, Kolchak: The Night Stalker, Now and Again, Action, The Gun, The Famous Teddy Z, Profit
and a 1960s series to be named later. Comedy Central's TV Funhouse, which ran only two months during the 2000-01 season, will also show up.

Great TV that didn't last long will be explored as a subject during eight to 12 hours of first-run programming throughout the month. Brilliant, but Cancelled
and The Perfect Pitch
are specials that cover how networks describe pilots. Producing the show is World of Wonder (the producers of VH1's The RuPaul Show, The Eyes of Tammy Faye), which will provide Trio with at least four more documentary specials in 2003-04, and serve as a program-development think tank for the network.

Also on tap for December is Face Time, which will present conversations with TV visionaries in three, 30-minute segments.

Marketing plans are being finalized. Under consideration: outdoor vehicles and events in other DMAs, spot buys on TV Land and more tie-ins with Internet sites.

Themes for 2003 are still being considered, but look for "more of the same and bigger" in terms of marketing efforts, Klarman said.