USA Ready to Fight Summer Doldrums

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USA Network feels it has everything in place — from fresh primetime programming to extensive marketing and promotional support worth more than $20 million — to offer a cure for the summertime blues.

Network programmers have scheduled "A Summer Like No Other" as a means to promote USA as an alternative to the summer reruns that dominate the major broadcast networks, while staying competitive with the original fare due on other cable channels.

"Summer really is where so much of the 'new USA' is launching," said USA Network senior vice president of marketing Sarah Beatty. "We're turning up the heat to bring in a lot of viewers."

With all the original fare available, "summer seemed like a unique opportunity for us," she added. "We always had the U.S. Open [tennis tournament] as a signature event to close out the summer, but now with the AFI [American Film Institute Life Achievement Award special] near the beginning, that gave us two tent poles."

The AFI — whose all-star specials used to air on CBS — will honor Tom Hanks on June 24. To hype that event further, USA has slated the Hanks films Big
and Apollo 13
for outings June 22 and 23, with each to repeat on June 24, starting at 3:30 p.m., as lead-ins to the AFI special.

USA's promotional umbrella also will encompass two original series –The Dead Zone, starring Anthony Michael Hall, based on a Stephen King novel; and Monk, a mystery starring Tony Shalhoub.

Beatty described Monk
as "Columbo
meets As Good As It
Gets
," as its lead detective suffers from an obsessive-compulsive disorder.

USA will aim for appointment viewing for both Zone
(to air Sundays at 10 p.m.), which starts June 16, and Monk
(set for Fridays at 10 p.m.), which makes a two-hour bow on July 12.

The network's live U.S. Open coverage will run from Aug. 26 through Sept. 8.

USA is also supporting affiliates with a "very targeted and aggressive effort" — the most extensive marketing and promo support in Beatty's memory.

"In its totality, it's probably our biggest [campaign]," she said. She put its value in the $20 million range, including deals with print partners like
Vanity Fair
and Entertainment Weekly.
That total excludes affiliate support, the extent of which is not yet fully known.

USA's minimum goal is to ink deals reaching 25 million subscribers in the top 40 markets, which would make the campaign USA's strongest affiliate promo ever, said spokesman John Kelly. Commitments are already in from AT&T Broadband in Boston, Cleveland, Pittsburgh and Richmond, Va.; Time Warner Cable in New York; and Charter Communications Inc. in New England, he said.

Beatty said marketing kits were shipped to arrive by the time MSO officials returned from the National Show, where USA executives also talked up the promo details.

The kit includes sweepstakes materials tied to the overall theme, cross-channel spots and ad slicks for the two new series and the AFI special. MSO-branded cross-channel promos for the Open are available, as well as ad slicks and customizable billstuffers.

To spark affiliate participation, there are incentive programs; top prizes include one weekend trip to the U.S. Open awarded for June participation and another for July.

The incentive prize for the U.S. Open campaign is a trip to a Universal Studios theme park, said USA.

IN THE DEMO

All of the programming should appeal primarily to USA's target adult 25-to-54 audience — except for the U.S. Open, which has broader appeal, according to the channel's promo materials.

The network has also included some revenue-producing opportunities for the operators, who can sell local sponsorships for the shows or tie their cable-modem pitches into the various promos and other ad materials, said Beatty.

Car dealers, book retailers and radio stations are among categories affiliates could target for this summer promo salvo, said USA. In-store sweepstakes, on-air contests and commitments to test drive a car could be rewarded with USA-branded premiums, the network added.

For Monk, Beatty suggested affiliate tie-ins to bookstores that sell mysteries.

USA also has created a customizable cable-modem spot tied to Dead Zone,
but Beatty did not yet have an estimate on how many operators plan to deploy it.

The Open will be touted as "a USA Network tradition — morning, noon and night!" Beyond the 100 hours of coverage across the two weeks of the U.S. Open, USA has created a pair of tennis-tourney "Moments" that retailers and other local clients can sponsor, Beatty said.

"We did that last year at the last minute in New York and it was well-received" by Time Warner CityCable, she noted.

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