GSN and Court TV execute bold plans

Mar 12, 2001  •  Post A Comment

Money may be the root of all evil, but for growing cable networks, it can also help bring in new viewers.
Court TV and the Game Show Network are both digging down deeper this year on program spending, which they hope pays off with higher ratings.
Court TV is increasing its program budget by 15 percent to $140 million, which will be spent over the next two years. The network is also increasing its marketing budget 25 percent to $25 million. The additional program money will fund an ambitious slate of new law-themed documentaries and a newsmagazine.
“We’re trying to embrace an audience that is represented by the quality and upscale nature of our programming,” Court TV Chairman Henry Schleiff said.
Since its 1999 re-launch, Court TV has boosted its prime-time ratings 600 percent to a 0.7 rating and 385,000 homes, according to Nielsen Media Research.
Court TV also added 15 million new homes since last March to hit the 53 million mark, making it the fastest-growing network during the past 12 months.
Court TV’s new prime-time law-themed shows are netting new advertisers-the network has added 30 national advertisers in the past six months, including State Farm Insurance, Dell Computers and H&R Block.
The new companies helped Court TV double its first-quarter ad revenue for the same period in 2000, Mr. Schleiff said.
Court TV is betting this year’s program spending will net more subscriber homes. The network is guaranteeing advertisers it will reach 65 million homes by next year.
Court TV’s 2001 program slate includes “The System,” a three-night-a-week prime-time newsmagazine that will tackle a wide range of legal-themed issues. The one-hour show runs at 10 p.m. (ET) Tuesdays through Thursdays starting April 10.
“System” installments this year include “The Interrogation of Michael Crowe” and “Court TV’s Safety Challenge 2001,” a co-production with ABC News hosted by Jack Ford.
Other specials to run on “The System” are “Attica,” a two-hour documentary marking the 30th anniversary of the Attica, N.Y., prison riots; “Final Appeal: The U.S. Supreme Court,” a one-hour documentary and a co-production with ABC News; and “Murder or Tragedy? The Pioneer Hotel Fire,” a one-hour documentary produced by CBS News.
Court TV will produce its first two original law-themed movies this year and hopes to double its slate next year. The network’s first original law-themed dramatic scripted series may still be a year or two away, Mr. Schleiff said.
“We have to be very careful that we do something that’s different, new, unusual or stretches the envelope,” Mr. Schleiff said. “We’ll do it when it makes sense and when we can do it with a specific Court TV perspective or spin on it.”
Game Show Network is also boosting its spending on new shows. While GSN officials declined to give figures, they called this year’s budget a “sizable” increase over last year.
According to Paul Kagan Associates, Game Show Network will spend an estimated $19.1 million on programming in 2001, a 47 percent increase over last year.
That money will go toward five new game shows unveiled last week at GSN’s upfront in New York. The shows, which take a new twist on the conventional game show genre, are aimed at lowering GSN’s average viewer age.
“Are we going after the MTV audience? No,” said Jack Tauber, executive vice president of the Game Show Network. “Do we want the general demographic down? Sure. We want to get to the lower ends of the 18 to 49 and 25 to 54 demographic ranges.”
GSN is in the third year of its five-year plan to run 50 percent original programming, which it sees as key to boosting its ratings and household base.
Last year, GSN added 9.7 million households to reach 33.2 million. Its prime-time ratings this year are up 25 percent to a 0.5 and 149,000 households, according to Nielsen Media Research.
Several of GSN’s new shows take viewers out on the road.
“Billboard Living” will place teams of contestants on billboards across the country where they will camp out in “Survivor”-like fashion to compete for games and prizes.
Another GSN road show is “Hell Yes, I’m a Redneck” where amateur contestants vie to see who can tell the most colorful story.
“There’s a kind of energy that comes out those locations that can’t be duplicated in the studios because they’re real places,” Mr. Tauber said. “The notion is to create programming that still appeals to the core viewer but to bring in people who might not be aware of Game Show Network.”
Other new GSN shows to launch this year include “Shoot for Love,” a dating game with a voyeuristic twist; “E-Match,” an interactive dating game show co-developed with Web site Match.com; and “Grab the Mic,” which features contestant improvisations.
GSN officials said they hope the new shows will bring in a new breed of advertisers.
“We would just like to broaden our list of advertisers,” Mr. Tauber said. “Look at the fully distributed networks. They tend to have more [advertiser] categories.”