‘On-Air’ Fighting for Young Demos

Feb 9, 2004  •  Post A Comment

Stations carrying Twentieth Television’s “On-Air With Ryan Seacrest” are heavily promoting an appearance by pop princess Britney Spears this Wednesday, during the first week of February sweeps.
But the big push isn’t just about sweeps. It is also part of a second wave of marketing for the syndicated show, which has received average ratings despite a major advertising campaign and Mr. Seacrest’s visibility as host of “American Idol,” which is dominating the late winter ratings.
Like many recent syndie debuts, the show came out of the gate at a 1.0 national household rating, according to Nielsen Media Research.
In launching the daily live show, which broadcasts from the Hollywood & Highland entertainment complex in Los Angeles, Twentieth employed traditional syndicated marketing tools such as local radio, local cable, national print and outdoor to appeal to a broad range of viewers.
The launch was timed around the debut of the third season of Fox’s wildly successful “American Idol.” Twentieth bought local Fox station TV ads for “On-Air” to run during “Idol.”
But instead of exploding onto the marketplace, “On-Air” has struggled for attention. It held even at a 1.0 rating for the week ending Jan. 25, the show’s second on the air, but on the bright side was up in all key demographics and now boasts the youngest median viewing age of any syndicated talk show at 33.1, according to Nielsen.
Now it remains uncertain whether Ms. Spears, or any guest or stunt, can give “On-Air” a significant ratings boost and whether Twentieth Television’s bold experiment to seek out a younger, hipper daytime audience can succeed.
Almost all daytime shows, including the popular talk and court show genres, attract mainly women ages 25 to 54, who are the most available group at that time of day. “On-Air” was to be the first show of its kind to target 18- to 34-year-old viewers, who are the most desirable for advertisers.
It has become clear the show must go after a wider audience. The issue is how to do it without alienating the young audience the show was designed to attract. Twentieth needs everything it can get. Twentieth’s modest goal is to get to at least a 2.0. It says 18 of 55 markets are already getting 2.0 ratings or more.
“This was a very complicated marketing campaign,” said Bob Cook, president and chief operating officer of Twentieth Television. “We have a very young host who appeals to young people. But the goal was also to attract the 20- to 40-year-old. Or at the very least, we didn’t want to say that `The show is not for you.”’
The new marketing push will go beyond the traditional media in an effort to reach younger viewers who are more likely to be listening to music or surfing the Internet than watching a soap opera or game show.
“It’s the MTV audience that he has to go after,” said Bill Carroll, VP and director of programming for TV sales rep Katz Television Group. “It’s pretty difficult in the current environment to get the word out. They are going to take a nontraditional approach, especially if you are targeting younger viewers.”
For the February sweeps, the show will increase its “viral marketing” campaign, including outreach and advertising on teen Web sites. This mirrors the kind of marketing that is used by record and music companies, but not syndicated TV shows.
Such campaigns usually include participation in online chat rooms-where young adults gather on the Internet-with representatives of Internet marketing companies passing along information about shows and other teen products. Twentieth has made heavy media buys on teen Web sites such as Alloy.com, Bolt.com and Cyberteen.com.
Twentieth has more efforts planned. “We are also exploring event marketing things-coming up with possibly [music] competitions, going to colleges and using street teams,” said Susan Kantor, senior VP of marketing and creative for Twentieth Television.
“On-Air” also looks for help from other consumer marketers. It already has product placement deals with AT&T Wireless in which Mr. Seacrest mentions AT&T Wireless on the air so viewers can contact the show via text messaging. Other efforts include an Internet deal with Amazon.com to help promote and sell artists’ CDs and a radio stations promotion with Clear Channel Entertainment. Three or four other deals are planned with consumer marketers.
The show may soon get a further boost from national radio. Mr. Seacrest is reportedly in talks to take over the national syndicated radio show “American Top 40” from Casey Kasem. Additionally, he is rumored to be moving to the big Los Angeles radio station KIIS-FM, replacing longtime radio host Rick Dees.
Calls to Roy Laughlin, senior VP and general manager of KIIS, were not returned by press time.
Though Mr. Cook touts the show’s quarter-hour by quarter-hour rating improvement and notes that ratings are growing over stations’ lead-in programming, he admitted that not all stations are seeing positive results from the show. Twentieth’s competitors note many stations haven’t shown improvement in ratings so far.
“In fairness, they are right,” Mr. Cook said. “We are going to have a struggle in markets where we are on weaker UPN stations. To that end New York at 5 p.m. on UPN premiered to a 0.9 and is now a 1.1. That’s tough duty on that station. The true indicator is when we get some demographics in.” Stations will get February sweeps demographic information next month. So far, in households ratings, some individual station managers have been reporting positive results.
“We are doing a 2.5 rating,” said Spencer Koch, VP and general manager of KTVI-TV in St. Louis. “That’s a pretty damn good number, and we don’t even have the demographics yet.”
“I was someone who had major doubts,” said Gene McHugh, VP and general manager of WAGA-TV in Atlanta, the hometown of Mr. Seacrest. “He must be getting older viewers crossing over as well because he is doing a 4 household rating. That’s pretty good.”
“We are settling at a 3 rating and a 9 share,” said Mike Renda, VP and general manager of WJW-TV in Cleveland.
Local advertising sales are also improving in many markets as stations ink deals from advertising categories they don’t normally receive. “We are getting movies and fast-food [business],” said Mr. Renda, who runs the show in a block of other Fox shows, “Classmates” and “Ambush Makeover.” “It’s a much better [advertising] sale for us in selling the younger demo.”