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March 2007 Archives

Miss America Now Homeless

March 30, 2007 3:32 PM

I was a little surprised that cable net CMT, which successfully aired the Miss America Pageant for the last two years, getting great ratings, dropped the annual beauty contest like a hot potato.

Last year the special attracted 3.1 million viewers and although this year’s telecast had dropped to 2.4 million viewers, both telecasts were CMT’s highest rated shows.

Those are more than respectable numbers for a cable airing. So does Miss America still have legs, and what network, if any, will pick up the show for next year? I cannot imagine a women’s network like Oxygen or Lifetime going there, potentially riling up feminist viewers. So how about Spike TV, with it’s young male audience? Or how about nowhere? Your turn to judge and hand out the tiara.

Verizon Makes Savvy Local Move in DC

March 27, 2007 4:25 PM

Verizon, which has been rolling out its FiOS video services for the past two years, is making a very smart move in the Beltway, where our nation’s regulators are fine tuning the telecommunications act.

So beyond offering up traditional cable fare, the phone company will also roll out a local news channel, FiOS1 at the end of this month in that all important market, and is expected to do the same in other markets if the experiment is a success.

Verizon is actually borrowing a page from Cablevision Systems Inc, which for years has offered News 12 to its 3 million viewers. I loved it when I lived in Cablevision’s footprint and I miss it here in Comcast’s territory.

In Washington FiOS will be marketing its services against Comcast. And unlike Cablevision, Comcast does not yet offer a local news channel of its own, just a regional news channel which is hardly the same, emanating from Philadelphia with some local feeds from places like Boston.

I predict Verizon will get some traction from FiOS1. Would you watch if your cable operator had one? I sure would, and hope FiOS1 is a home run.

Cable Subs Pay the Price

March 23, 2007 4:32 PM

Mediacom Communications, a small cable multiple system operator, lost its battle with Sinclair Broadcast Group, paying the broadcaster about 50 cents to carry its station signals. Now it’s time for Mediacom’s cable subscribers to share the MSO’s pain, a 4 percent to 8 percent rate hike effective this May.

For now at least broadcasters have the law on their side. Personally, to me, this is just another one of those unintended consequences of the 1992 Cable Act. The act was supposed to protect consumers from unfair price increases, in part, and now just the opposite is happening.

And that’s too bad, especially for Mediacom which lost 7,000 cable subscribers when the Sinclair stations went dark in its markets for almost one month.

Do you think the regulatory deck is stacked unfairly in favor of broadcasters? I do.

Should Court TV Change its Name?

March 19, 2007 4:28 PM

Should Court TV Change its Name? That’s the bone media junkies have been gnawing at since Court TV’s owner Turner Networks announced that a name change was in store for the cable net that currently airs trial coverage by day and entertainment programming by night. Bipolar yes, but the strategy works for viewers.

Court TV doesn’t have major changes in line for its current programming strategy, with the exception of adding a few new shows, one starring Star Jones Reynolds. Otherwise the slate remains pretty much intact, for now. Court TV’s general manager Marc Juris has said in published reports that this is a case of a brand “outgrowing” its name. What that means is beyond me. He also said that advertisers were turned off by the name, saying to them it meant grizzly court reports. Like the rest of TV isn’t grizzly or violent?

Give me a break. According to Beta Research the brand Court TV has 96 percent recall. Also, the net’s ratings are up, but ad sales remain flat. Juris said the new name will be more generic. Like what Brand X? Personally, I wouldn’t mess with the moniker, but beef up the ad sales staff, whose heads are now working elsewhere.

So what will Court TV morph into? Let’s give Juris some unsolicited help here, since the company is hell bent on renaming this network. Perhaps Crime TV? Probably not, too specific and not generic. So marketing mavens, let’s all play the name game here and weigh in with some suggestions for this exercise in futility.

How do Commercial Ratings Rate?

March 19, 2007 12:00 AM

Are commercial ratings for real?

Not yet, but the Association of National Advertisers is holding a powwow in New York March 20, calling on the TV industry to begin offering brand-specific commercial ratings. Good luck, I say.

The ANA's TV Advertising Committee is beating the drum loudly now, growing more impatient that commercial ratings still don't exist and demanding a more collaborative approach among advertisers, media services and the TV community to make this happen and soon. "Collaborative commiserating" would be more appropriate language.

In all fairness, Nielsen has made some progress on this front, delivering minute-by-minute ratings. The problem is that even those more advanced yardsticks do not isolate individual commercials within any given minute. For now, all they tell you is basically when a viewer in a metered household hit the remote and moved to another channel during the pod. OK, that's a step forward.

And although Nielsen has gone back to the drawing board once again and promises to deliver more accurate data come May 31, the data will not include brand-specific commercial ratings, said Mel Berning, A&E Television Networks' executive VP, advertising sales.

So forget about brand-specific commercial ratings being a factor in the upfront ad sales market, mere months away. "Even if we got the new minute-by-minute data on May 31, there's no way we would be able to set rate cards by June 1, the day after. We're doing rate cards now," Mr. Berning said.

The Cabletelevision Advertising Bureau's VP of Research and Insight, Ira Sussman, said Nielsen so far has not been able to demonstrate that it can actually provide "reliable sub-minute" data that's accurate and "forecastable."

Given all the advances of science—after all, we can put a man on the moon-mdash;why can't a medium that is half a century old figure this out? Part of the problem-mdash;and no one will ever say this publicly—is that the companies that actually pay the freight and foot Nielsen's bill, largely the broadcast and cable networks and ad agencies, in their heart of hearts don't want to see this happen.

And I have to say I'm in their camp. Even if it can be done, and the numbers are statistically projectable one day, they will provide absolutely no information on whether a viewer walked out of the room to get a drink of water, was reading the paper, talking on the phone, screwing around online or even awake. Maybe it's best if the viewer was asleep, in a hypnotic trance, and awoke later to remember the subliminal suggestion of an ad.

Where advertisers should be demanding more data is on the engagement scale of viewing, which ascertains not only if the commercial was actually seen, but can determine if it was active or passing viewing. "That's the Holy Grail and gets closer to asking the question if the ad worked," said Mr. Berning.

There's an even more troublesome question to confront after all these years, and that is if advertising really works at all. Creatives who produce commercials, television networks, advertisers and agencies, which all have some skin in this game—their bottom lines and their very livelihoods—all want to believe advertising, particularly TV ads, moves products off shelves and autos off lots.

Even online ads, which can be more accurately measured, are suspect because of the growing rise of click fraud, said Mr. Berning. As far as getting viewers to actually watch TV ads, he recommends programmers sprinkle more short-form content into their commercial pods to keep people engaged and not drive them to the remote control.

Obviously I see no value whatsoever in commercial ratings. And while I'm a believer in engagement research, the real truth is that a lot of ads are just plain boring; they're run too often with the same droning message, driving viewers in droves to other destinations on the TV set or out of the room. And to be fair to all, much the same can be said about most of the actual programming on TV. Look at the ratings.

In Loving Memory of My Couch Potato: Lucy

March 12, 2007 10:20 PM

Today was a devastating day for our family, as we put down our beloved Yellow Labrador, Lucy, only age 5, from what seemed, at first, only to be minor, gastro distress. But over these past 72 hours, her status rapidly deteriorated into acute renal failure. She had the best of care, many consultations from three loving vets. No choice, but the worst.

For all of you who know Lucy, she loved TV. She was always with me in the den, in my lap, all 70+ pounds of her watching along with me, so, so many boring DVD cable pilots. Well, and sometimes, actually a few great ones. It didn’t matter. She loved all TV. She smiled through it all. But, alas, no more.

So with heavy heart I share this news with all of you, and urge you to be vigilant of your loving charges. They leave pawprints on our hearts. And for now, at least, I can’t even look at a television set. I miss her smile. So, help me in sending her off to heaven, with your remarks, and a toast for her, and all of our beloved lost pets. Today blows, bigtime, for me.

Trying to Manage the Message

March 12, 2007 12:00 AM

At large media companies with multiple moving pieces, it's no cakewalk to present a unified corporate message. That's the conclusion I came to at the Women in Cable & Telecommunications conference in New York during cable's so-called "Spring Break" last week.

It was hardly spring, as an arctic blast blew into town, along with several thousand cable executives who were there to attend Cable Positive's annual fundraising dinner, this year honoring Time Warner Cable chieftain Glenn Britt. Also, WICT hosted its first Leadership Conference, which attracted more than 550 attendees. And WICT's New York chapter, along with Multichannel News, held its annual Wonder Women lunch that same week.

At the WICT Leadership Conference, I moderated a panel of public relations executives who discussed how they manage the message, especially during turbulent times. Shirley Powell, senior VP of corporate communications at Turner Broadcasting System, was quite open about Cartoon Network's marketing ploy for Adult Swim that went awry, costing the company $2 million.

Cartoon had hired a third-party vendor, Interference, to launch a viral outdoor marketing campaign in 10 cities; it backfired in Boston when local authorities responded to the campaign as a threat to security, deploying first responders to the scene. There's no crisis-management playbook that prepares public relations executives on how to deal with this kind of outcome, she said: "You just jump in" and put out the fire.

Also on the hot seat was Jeanine Liburd, senior VP of corporate communications at Viacom. Her crisis was both internal and external when the company fired longtime chief Tom

Freston in September. And it didn't stop there, with 250 more heads rolling in a massive company reorganization. Employee morale was in the basement, but it was time to "leave your emotions at home" and realize the business reasons for the decision were clear, she said.

Ellen East, Cox Communications' VP of communications and public affairs, had a different message to impart. Several years ago the publicly held company went private, which created an unanticipated dilemma. While management enjoyed getting out from under Wall Street's microscope, nobody was calling the company at a time when it was aggressively launching its bundle of services: voice, video and high-speed Internet access. Ms. East described how the company had to shift gears and get ink to get the word out to the public so Cox could market the new services and grow the business.

Meanwhile, the fourth panelist, Lifetime Entertainment's Meredith Wagner, executive VP of public affairs and corporate communications, didn't usher in the new year happily when EchoStar Communications' Dish dropped the network in late 2006. The last thing companies want during carriage renewal negotiations is to see their stories splashed all over page one, especially when the short-term news is not a positive story. Eventually the parties came to an agreement and Lifetime was reinstated on Dish, but Ms. Wagner's job was to let the negotiators do their business without stirring up more ink.

All four panelists spoke about the difficulties they sometimes face with their own company managers as to how a message should be presented (or sometimes just muzzled). They all attend meetings of all their companies' various divisions and often encounter resentment about their presence, especially when they offer input. "You just have to push back," said Ms. East, and remind the different divisions why PR is sitting at the table.

Managing leaks was another hot potato. The panelists acknowledged it's nearly impossible, but all four companies have strict policies about employees speaking to the press before letting corporate communications know what's afoot. And their jobs have become even more taxing with the growth and popularity of blogs, they agreed.

Clearly it's not like the old days, when companies sent out news announcements via Federal Express while the PR staffs awaited press reaction. Today the function is a 24/7 commitment, with fires erupting everywhere and anywhere. Welcome to today's reality, they told attendees, who hopefully walked away with a better idea of what their PR people are up against. n

Turner: No Interference on ‘Interference’

March 8, 2007 12:33 PM

Home. Back on the spit of sand after many cable confabs in New York this week. One of the most interesting things I heard was from TBS’ SVP Shirley Powell. We were on a panel that touched on what went wrong with CartoonNet’s viral marketing effort in Boston last month for Adult Swim that shut down the city.

If you recall, Cartoon hired a third party vendor called Interference, a boutique marketing outfit in New York with only 14 employees, to launch a viral marketing campaign. It placed funky billboards in prominent places, under bridges and potential terrorist-attack sights, without gaining permission from local authorities. Boston officials went ballistic and shut the city down.

Bottom line: TBS paid local officials in Beantown $2 million to compensate all the first responders who thought the marketing scheme was an actual bomb scare and deployed their first responders to the scene.

When I asked Powell today, in public, if Interference was subsequently crossed off the “preferred vendors” listafter this stunt gone awry, she said, “No,” adding that Turner took full responsibility for the unintended fiasco.

Question to all of you marketing mavens: Would you keep this high-antics third party vendor on your list? I’m not sure I would.

Mobile TV: Not for Me or Europe

March 5, 2007 12:00 AM

A friend who is no longer in the 18 to 49 demo was showing me her new cell phone, and I looked on with bemusement as she seemingly happily snapped my photo, ran some mobile videos and then, to my surprise, sighed, saying, "This blows."

She could do just about anything with it but get it to ring. She wound up taking it back and getting a phone that was just a phone. And that's how I feel about my own cell phone.

Now I'm a little relieved, as I sense an ebb tide about the potential of mobile television, even as content providers and advertisers feverishly scramble to float even more new cell phone TV offerings.

There was a great piece recently in the Chicago Tribune, "Mobile TV Customers Voice Quality Complaints." The article was not about gripes from American cell phone users but, more interestingly, from European cell phone owners. Remember, mobile video was introduced in Europe years before it came to this side of the pond. We looked like technology laggards.

The article cited a study from Naperville, Ill.-based Tellabs that polled 22,000 European mobile phone users. The vast majority said they tried mobile TV but dropped the service. Who knew? I sure didn't. The main reason was price, but about a quarter of the respondents carped about quality and reliability issues.

We still don't have mobile TV totally squared away here, either. Last week in the "Gadgets" section of the Wall Street Journal, a reporter did some test driving of some of the more popular mobile TV packages available. The report was pretty positive, but the reporter had her own gripes, albeit small potatoes.

But the mobile TV wave isn't about to stop until it hits your cell phone. AOL, according to published reports, is in talks to buy Boston-based Third Screen Media for $80 million. That start-up company works with large advertisers, ad agencies, newspapers and cable networks to create mobile ads.

And that's where I draw the line about what I want to see, if anything, on my cell phone. The category for mobile TV ad sales is slowly growing, representing a mere 2.6 percent of total ad spending for now, according to EMarketer. However, it's expected to grow by double digits very soon—by 2011.

I hope not. I find the notion of mobile TV intrusive, especially ads. And advertisers like Johnson & Johnson who use it should think about the ramifications. I don't know what your cell phone package is like, but I pay for a certain amount of minutes for incoming and outgoing calls. Does this mean I have to pay to watch an ad?

I don't know the answer to that question. And fortunately I don't need to know, at least for now, because my phone is pretty old and does nothing more or less than it was intended to do: make and receive phone calls. That's the way I like it. I even got rid of text messaging ever since some teenager misdialed me and I wound up paying for unwanted, disruptive messages from scads of language-challenged senders who appeared to be writing in pig Latin.

But I'm facing my own day of reckoning as I look wistfully at my cell phone, now recharging as it does every single day on what has become its respirator, trying to keep that menacing "low battery" signal from appearing, as it does ever more frequently.

I know the phone is probably beyond redemption. But like my friend, with her disappointing "Star Wars"-like phone experience, I'm looking for a cell phone that just rings. May the forces be with me.

Today's Guilt Trip

March 1, 2007 9:03 PM

Snuck out to Willy’s Gym this afternoon and eaves-dropped on a conversation between two know it all yuppies about how they were prepping to transist into the digital age. In my gym, small town, just about everybody knows everybody. Gladly I don’t know those two.

Natch, they had it all wrong. They have exactly the same problem I have: expanded basic, no set-top converter, so something needs to be done, I guess, before 2009, if it even happens. But I had dinner on my mind, after reading my colleague’s blog, “Mel’s Diner” on this website about the best mac n cheese. Check it out.

Sounded like they were both going to upgrade on Comcast for the full digital array of networks. The dude said, it was no problem, that Comcast would snake all wires up and down the walls for all sets. Huh! Dead wrong, macho man. Comcast, here, runs wires along your walls only, and if you wanna snake, you hire an electrician, or commandeer your husband to the task and hope he doesn't French fry the house. See another food analogy.

Could have. Should have. Didn’t tell them what I knew. But why bother? Sometimes listening is better than “stepping in it,” and you know what I mean if you have dogs, or guests who like to tell you what’s wrong with media. And, being the ace of procrastination, I must say it has its payoffs. Sometimes the problems just go away.

Could have told them to try to get a $40 rebate for a tuner that would fix all of their problems. But I didn’t, because the cutters of those checks probably don’t have enough money to go around for all. So why blow my own chances?

Now the guilt is setting in. Was I a lout, and mindless of community service, that I could have provided, if I didn’t have mac n cheese on my mind? After all I sit on the town’s cable and telecom advisory committee, pro bono. Maybe tomorrow. Or maybe not.