With its pay-per-view buy-rates in the basement, Turner
Broadcasting System Inc.'s World Championship Wrestling unit is revamping its PPV business
with new personnel and a new marketing strategy.
Two weeks ago, the company eliminated the position of Jay
Hassman, who oversaw PPV marketing as vice president of WCW Enterprises. Next month, Aaron
Blitzstein, an executive at artist-management company G.A.S. Entertainment, will take over
as WCW vice president of marketing. Blitzstein has represented such bands as Sonic Youth
and the Beastie Boys.
Blitzstein will oversee and integrate all aspects of WCW
marketing, including PPV, retail and Internet operations. Working under Blitzstein is Tom
Hunt, former director of promotions at Cartoon Network, who joined WCW in January as
director of PPV marketing and promotions.
The restructuring comes as both WCW PPV buy-rates and the
weekly ratings for its programs on Turner Network Television and TBS Superstation have
fallen to all-time lows.
WCW PPV events this year have averaged a 0.28 buy-rate,
down about 50 percent from an 0.55 buy-rate in 1999. The 1999 buy-rate also fell about 50
percent from the 1.03 WCW pulled in 1998, according to the company.
WCW's flagship Monday Nitro program on TNT averaged
a 3.1 rating and 2.3 million homes in January, less than half of the average audience
drawn to the rival World Wrestling Federation's Raw is War on USA Network. Raw boasted
a 6.3 rating and 4.8 million homes.
Hunt said a key to WCW's new marketing strategy will be to
decrease the amount of money it spends on spot advertising while increasing its outlays
for direct marketing.
"We are redefining the way we promote our pay-per-view
events -- one, to increase our buy-rates, and two, to enhance our relationships with cable
and satellite providers," said Hunt, who held marketing posts at the WWF and WCW's
interactive division before joining Cartoon Network.
Hunt said WCW is looking at its July 9 Bash at The Beach
PPV event in Daytona Beach, Fla., as the "signature" of its new PPV marketing
WCW is producing cross-channel spots to help cable
operators to promote a contest tied to the event. Subscribers that buy the event will
automatically be entered into a drawing, and the winner will get to escort WCW star Bill
Goldberg to the ring.
Subscribers who mail a copy of their PPV bills to WCW will
be sent a Goldberg doll, Hunt added.
The company is also launching a direct-marketing campaign
to promote its events using a database containing the names of 600,000 people who have
ordered PPV programming, bought tickets to live events or purchased WCW merchandise, Hunt
To promote its April 16 Spring Stampede PPV event in
Chicago, WCW will hold private screenings on April 4 of Ready To Rumble, a
theatrical release from sister company Warner Bros. The film features wrestlers from WCW.
The company will give away 125 movie passes in 51 markets through radio contests, Hunt
WCW will also rely more heavily on its weekly cable
programs to promote PPV events, by using announcers and wrestlers to plug upcoming shows
many times during each telecast, Hunt said. "In the past, the creative team operated
somewhat independently of the pay-per-view team," he said.
The company believes that if it can use the weekly programs
to improve the PPV events, the audiences for its cable programs will also grow, Hunt said.
"Let's not lose sight of the fact that pay-per-view is
the cash cow of this company," he said. "When we deliver a strong pay-per-view
event, the ratings will go up."