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GSN Nudges Its Viewers to Web

Jan 17, 2005  •  Post A Comment

GSN plans to make watching TV more rewarding.

The network is teaming up with parent company Sony Corp. for its most far-reaching joint effort ever, offering prizes and discounts to viewers who watch GSN shows and interact with them on the Web.

“The goal of the program is to improve brand affinity,” said Dena Kaplan, senior VP of marketing at GSN. “Part of that, of course, is increasing viewership, improving our demographics and looking to maintain and grow a direct relationship with our best viewers.”

GSN already has viewers interacting with the network, playing along with its game and casino shows via the Internet. About 80 hours a week of GSN’s programming has an interactive component, which tends to attract a relatively young audience.

The network will also use the rewards program with advertisers, giving away or discounting their products on the Web site, and for affiliates, offering rewards to subscribers who add services such as digital service or high-speed data.

Ms. Kaplan said that the network’s audience research shows that while those viewers are playing along, they don’t feel they have a chance to win anything.

But with the new promotion, called GSN Rewards Powered by My Sony, “you are a winner every time you play along,” she said. “You don’t have to be the best player, the fastest player or the luckiest player. You just have to play. You’re going to win points toward various types of rewards.”

Sony’s My Sony program already has about 3 million members. GSN viewers will become part of that program, which offers deep discounts on Sony products ranging from electronic gear like Wega TVs and Vaio computers to Sony music CDs. The site offers other products and services, including vacation trips.

Jeff Ratner, VP of marketing and business unit relationships at Sony, said working with GSN will give My Sony participants more entertaining ways to earn the points that earn them discounts. Already consumers can earn points by playing along with “Wheel of Fortune.”

“We’re looking for different ways to engage with customers, however they interact with Sony,” Mr. Ratner said. “They may be watching GSN on a Sony television. If they need a new set, or a new computer, then we’re going to be there to make that available.”

He anticipates that GSN viewers will include “hundreds of thousands” of new participants in My Sony. GSN, in turn, hopes to capitalize on the existing My Sony database.

No cash is changing hands between Sony and GSN. While GSN promotes the program over its airwaves, Sony handles the back-office and fulfillment chores.

Viewers earn points for interacting with the GSN Rewards site. They get 1,000 points for signing up, plus double points during their first month of membership. Members get 125 points for playing along with GSN interactive programs. With 1,500 points, a viewer can buy a Sony digital camera with a retail value of $34.99, for $12.99.The GSN site will also feature items geared to specific GSN shows. Joel Chiodi, executive director of marketing at GSN, said that viewers on GSN message boards are selling and trading items like T-shirts from game show “Whammy,” autographed pictures of GSN hosts and other network premiums.

Those kinds of items will now be available through the GSN rewards program, and viewers who register will become GSN VIPs.

“The bottom line is with every initiative we do on the network, we want to go the extra mile for the people in the rewards program,” Mr. Chiodi said.

The network has already soft-launched the program to make sure the GSN site meshes with My Sony. A promotional campaign will kick off Jan. 19 with on-air crawls directing viewers to the revamped Web site. On Jan. 31, on-air spots will begin to appear.

The spots urge viewers “to play with your TV” and show viewers-watching on Sony TVs and simultaneously logged on to their Sony computers-playing along. But when they sign up with GSN Rewards, playing with the TV really pays off.

The network waited to push the rewards program on-air because it’s been using the bulk of its promo time to support the launch of several new shows.

Last week, the network launched its horse-racing reality show “American Dream Sweepstakes” and next week, it will launch its Friday Casino Night prime-time block, which consists of episodes of “Poker Royale: Battle of the Sexes,” “World Series of Blackjack” and “Celebrity Blackjack.”

Ms. Kaplan said that the rewards program will be valuable to the network’s advertising and affiliate sales efforts.

“Currently we have advertisers that are part of our interactive games,” she said. “Now we can incorporate them on a seamless basis so that when viewers interact with an [online] ad, they get rewards.” Advertisers that compete with Sony products, including video games and movies, are welcome to give away their products as part of the new Sony-related program, she said.

Similarly, the network is pitching cable operators on joint promotions of the giveaway site. GSN can create localized, co-branded reward sites for operators and offer cable customers discounts on video-on-demand movies or other premiums as rewards for signing up for digital cable or high-speed Internet access.