Broadcast Networks Need to Shift Promotion Strategy

Apr 12, 2004  •  Post A Comment

The broadcast networks continue their yearly 6 percent to 8 percent market share decline. So to make up the revenue shortfall their management created, they raise rates to advertisers, solicit them for content investment, expect affiliates to contribute funds and develop strategies to turn their fortunes around that clearly miss the mark. There’s a word for this-chutzpah.
Instead, since ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC cannot control increased competition, wouldn’t it make sense for them to identify and correct the most damaging reasons that they can control behind their ratings loss? The one paying the largest and fastest dividends involves sampling.
That’s not only because TV promotion can’t motivate one person to sample a scripted series, but also because each major network’s nearly $1 billion promotional budget is wasted, and has been for years.
Look at sitcoms. Their promotion is character-based, meaning to be impacted by or even understand it you must know the characters. But the only way to know the characters is to have seen the show! So all sitcom promotion does is remind the relatively few people who’ve seen it to tune in again.
See for yourself. Here are TV spot voice-overs for two sitcoms-one you haven’t seen, one you probably have.
1. “On the next `Sobelli,’ Eleanor falls in love with Kipling, and Gregory is mistakenly named New York’s Bachelor of the Month!”
Not having seen “Sobelli” means you don’t know Eleanor, Kipling and Gregory and can’t find the humor, so there is zero motivation to leave the show you normally watch to sample “Sobelli.” This might be the funniest half-hour in TV history, but there’s no way you can know that.
2. “On the next `Seinfeld,’ Elaine falls in love with Kramer, and George is mistakenly named New York’s Bachelor of the Month!”
Note that both have the same plot lines, but knowing Elaine, Kramer and George places the “Seinfeld” promo in context, and is why you get the spot and might watch this episode. Not a “Seinfeld” fan? Then both are meaningless, also proving you must know the characters to get the promo.
So for a series debuting with a 5 rating on a major network, its promotion only reminds those five to tune in again; it cannot motivate any of the other 95 to sample. And before the premiere, since no one knows the characters, its promotion impacts no one. Noticing promotions for sitcoms you don’t watch will confirm this.
This is not rocket science. If people cannot be motivated to sample a new show-no matter what new approaches networks have or how “great” a producer thinks it is-lower ratings will be the result.
But turning a network around in 2004 is possible. That begins with a new promotional strategy that not only reminds a program’s existing viewers to tune in again, but also motivates people who have not seen the show to sample it.
Perhaps it will surprise you to learn that this analysis was agreed with 100 percent by six current and former network senior VPs of promotion, a network president, an executive VP of marketing and others in TV and advertising. So why do the networks continue to employ what they know to be an ineffective, ratings-lowering promotional strategy? It’s simple: The people running TV have no desire to change.
That’s because the people running TV have a vested interest in perpetuating a status quo that enables them to make enormous incomes by failing. This is why they oppose an improved model, since it might invalidate them and end the financial gravy train they are on.
Creating high-rated shows is not hard to do once you identify and correct TV’s controllable problems. But until network management is held accountable by their corporate parents, affiliates or advertisers, the ratings free fall will needlessly continue until they bottom out and the broadcast networks become just slightly larger versions of their cable brethren. Or, worse, cease to exist. n
Ken Convoy is president of Santa Barbara, Calif.-based New Paradigm TV.