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Promotional Push Boosts A.M. Shows

Dec 8, 2003  •  Post A Comment

If off-network marketing and promotional efforts were ratings points, ABC’s “Good Morning America” would have been the big winner of the battle of the network morning stars this November sweeps.
An unusual promo push behind “GMA” underlined the fact that the dogfight over dominance among the morning network news shows continues to be hard-fought. The other two core competitors-NBC’s “Today” and CBS’s “The Early Show”-also mounted sweeps campaigns, but they were more typical of those shows.
The networks’ efforts paid off to varying degrees, as “Today” maintained its long-held spot at the top of the ratings heap while “GMA” and “Early” turned in record performances. The book that closed Nov. 26 proved to be the second-best-ever November sweeps in total viewers (an average of 6.5 million) for “Today.” It was “GMA’s” biggest November audience (5.2 million) since 1992, and it was “The Early Show’s” biggest November (3.01 million) since 1997.
ABC ponied up some big bucks for its national off-network marketing campaign. Tuneful 30-second reminders that “Good Things Are Happening” with “GMA’s” Charlie Gibson, Diane Sawyer, Robin Roberts and Tony Perkins popped up during November in some unexpected places. The bits featuring the signature “Good Things” theme appeared on Fox News Channel, CNN, Court TV, The Learning Channel and The Weather Channel, in addition to the more predictable environs of Lifetime, Oxygen and E! Two runs of a full-page ad in People magazine also appeared as part of the campaign, thought by industry sources to have cost ABC several hundred thousand dollars.
“I’m fortunate enough these days to have a good story to sell,” said Alan Ives, VP and creative director for ABC News marketing, advertising and promotion. Mr. Ives first showcased “Good Things Are Happening,” a soft-rock song that was co-written and is performed by roots rocker Bill Deasy, two years ago. The tune was not rewritten to include any mentions of “GMA” or its talent, who were featured in a video montage.
The spot made occasional reappearances with updated “GMA” scenes, said Mr. Ives, who is considering producing a holiday song for “GMA” this month.
He would not comment on the sweeps campaign’s price tag but said the “strong” off-network buy reflects that “`GMA’ is an enormous priority for the company.”
“Today,” following its tried-and-true strategy of embellishing on-network efforts, plugged on radio and promoted “America’s First Family”-Katie Couric, Matt Lauer, Al Roker and Ann Curry-on limited display outdoors through the end of the sweeps.
“The best place to promote `Today’ is on our air,” said Frank Radice, senior VP of advertising and promotions for NBC News. “I think image is not the best reason to spend.”
Third-place “The Early Show” on CBS earned most of its off-air exposure for Harry Smith, Hannah Storm, Julie Chen and Rene Syler through sweat equity and Viacom-family synergy.
“We’re doing more with less,” senior executive producer Michael Bass said.
At “The Early Show,” which in the first nine weeks of this season registered its strongest total viewership and women 25 to 54 performances in nearly nine years, the approach to promotion is more thrifty, Mr. Bass said.
“We have to really look for ways to do out-of-the-ordinary promotion, because we don’t have-certainly `GMA’ must have some monstrous budget,” he said.
“We’ve tried to take advantage of the Viacom empire as best we can. I think we can still do more with that and a better job with that. That’s a free thing,” Mr. Bass said.
Ms. Chen, who doubles as host of CBS’s “Big Brother,” and Ms. Storm also have played roles in projects on sister cable channel VH1.
“We’re like the little engine that could,” Mr. Bass said. “We’re chugging along and we’re doing really well and we’re going to make it over the mountain.”
Mr. Bass’ one-man cross-promotional machine is Dave Price, who dances and jokes and does the weather for WCBS-TV’s early-morning newscast and then dashes across town in time to do one last local segment that’s an extended plug for New Yorkers to stay tuned for “The Early Show,” which he joined last summer.
Mr. Price in November was host of “CBS Eye on American,” the package of CBS News features, including regular reports on Broadway and Las Vegas shows by Ms. Chen, that is seen by some 4 million American Airlines passengers per month. Mr. Price, whose three-fer deal includes the development of a show by Viacom-owned King World Productions, also is scheduled to appear on King World’s “Hollywood Squares” Dec. 8 to 11.
In New York-where the morning race has gotten wilder and “Today” generally finishes second to “GMA”-veteran weatherman Mr. Roker has begun walking across the street most mornings to alma mater WNBC-TV to make merry with local anchors and give a last-minute plug for the upcoming network show.
Strengthening local ties can be very important. Mr. Bass, who spent more than a decade at “Today,” said that when he took over “The Early Show” in May 2002 the CBS morning show was doing only two or three cut-ins with sister stations and affiliates throughout the country. Now “Early” does about 15 cut-ins on the average day. In addition, the switch to the four-anchor format (with Mr. Price) has made it easier to put “Early” anchors on the road to raise the profile of the show.
The particularly intense competition between NBC News and ABC News for big “get” interviews and concerts during sweeps was further evidence that the morning news war remains far from over.
One of the bonuses of Ms. Sawyer’s landing Jessica Lynch and Britney Spears and Ms. Couric’s snagging Elizabeth Smart and Tom Cruise was the unusual amount of non-network promotion such interviews earned on the syndicated entertainment shows and in print.
On the average night, the network morning shows can count only on snagging a promotional spot within another network news program, because as valuable as morning news shows are, the networks have a lot of programming real estate to promote.