Cable Finds Opportunity in Summer

Jul 21, 2003  •  Post A Comment

Think nail salons. Think bars, gyms, movie theaters and beaches. If you promote cable programming, say the marketers of several networks, you need to think outside the living room to reach audiences during the summer months.
“Summer really means we have to be more nimble, more creative and more aggressive about getting out to the places viewers may be,” said Sarah Beatty, senior VP of marketing for USA Networks.
Take Lifetime’s new marketing scheme, for instance. To promote the upcoming debuts of “Wild Card” and “1-800-MISSING,” the network shifted a small percentage (less than 5 percent) of its marketing budget to target active women through nontraditional means: posters in salons, drink coasters in nightclub hotspots, aerial banners flown along popular beaches.
“I almost look at summer as a big opportunity to reach people in more places, because they tend to be doing more things,” said Tom Hanft, Lifetime’s senior VP of marketing, advertising and promotion. “But there’s also a tremendous amount of programming out there.”
“Tremendous amount” is right. The broadcast nets are increasingly reluctant to write off summer as rerun season and have stocked their schedules with inexpensive reality programming. Cable channels also face increasing competition among their own kind, with new brands (not to mention rebrands) launching left and right. But the three-month period between the broadcast nets’ May sweeps and fall premieres is still considered the best bet for cable nets launching new programming, despite the inherent distractions of the season.
“Summer is the biggest challenge,” said Gavin Harvey, senior VP of marketing, E! Networks. “The days are longer. People are out. They’re doing other things. There are fewer homes watching television. But we like to take advantage of the summer months, because people are interested in entertainment, and their radar’s up.”
In addition to the usual summer distractions, feature movies also present intense competition for attention and prime ad time. The reality is no cable network can hope to compete with the marketing budget of a mega-budgeted blockbuster about to have its theatrical premiere.
“It’s relentless. Every weekend during the summer, studios spend $30 million – to $50 million to market a $100 million-dollar movie,” said Chris Carlisle, executive VP of marketing and promotion, FX Network. “You have to be really targeted in your approach and cut through the clutter, which means you have to make your message very clear.”
As a former marketer for Warner Brothers, Mr. Carlisle decided to fight theatrical advertising with its own tactics-creating a print ad campaign for “Nip/Tuck” that has a theatrical flair. One billboard was wrapped in bandages and slowly unveiled over a period of weeks. Other teases were hung in health clubs and featured the copy: “You could use a little `Nip/Tuck.”’
“Outdoor ads are pretty expensive, but we’re doing everything we can to hit people where they are,” Mr. Carlisle said.
More Theatrical Style
Turner’s TNT (“Caesar,” “Second Nature”) and Vivendi Universal’s USA (“Monk,” “Peacemakers”) are also attempting a more theatrical style, albeit a more literal one: Both networks crafted spots tailor-made for summer movie audiences and are running them at major cinema chains such as Regal and Loews.
“I think when you’re a cable channel and not a huge studio you have to think about leveraging where there’s going to be a captive audience,” said Ms. Beatty. “We’re capitalizing on the big blockbusters and their awareness. We’re taking advantage of an audience driven by the studios.”
Still, regardless of the season, the best way to attract an audience never changes: Have a great show. Bravo’s red-hot “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” is a prime example. The show has received glowing reviews, and its premiere was the highest-rated event in the network’s history.
“We all have times when we are asked to promote something that isn’t very good,” said Bravo’s senior VP of marketing, Vivian Zigler. “It really helps when you have something that’s honestly unique.”