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Cable Nets Pull Out Stops for Seasonal Marketing

Jun 20, 2005  •  Post A Comment

Buffalo nickels, local bar contests and themed penthouse hotel suites are among the unique marketing tools cable networks plan to use this summer to draw viewers from tentpole summer movies, broadcast reruns and reality series.

Though actual cable marketing budgets have changed little during the past few years-a survey of HBO, TNT, USA and ESPN found their total ad spending essentially unchanged since 2000-the tactics for promoting series have diversified.

Take, for example, Comedy Central’s campaign for its half-hour sketch comedy series “Stella,” slated to debut June 28. The network is taking unprecedented steps to get the entire first episode in front of as many viewers as possible. About 600,000 copies of the premiere will be distributed in magazines, stores and events. The full episode will also be available for viewing on the network’s Web site. The show will have preview clips available on Verizon cellphones, plenty of ads on print and on cable channels, and screenings in bars.

“This is by far a first for us, doing such a major push on multiple platforms,” said Richard Loomis, senior VP of marketing for Comedy Central.

GSN also is trying something different while promoting “Ballbreakers,” its pool shark series scheduled to premiere July 18. The channel is partnering with 150 saloons for a “Battle of the Bars” contest, in which taverns nominate a local player to compete in a GSN pool contest.

“With limited marketing dollars, we’ve chosen with ‘Ballbreakers’ to target the pool enthusiast,” said Dena Kaplan, senior VP of marketing for GSN. “Plus, it’s a potential recruiting ground for the next season’s [players].”

The trick is to target fans where they live and play, without overspending in the process. But even high-roller networks that practice saturation-bombing media campaigns also employ targeted tactics.

In 2004, for instance, HBO spent $30 million on magazine ads (as much as TNT, Comedy Central and USA Network combined), according to CMR. But in addition to the usual ad venues to promote the second season of “Entourage,” which kicked off June 5, the premium channel has distributed in cultural hot spots the Entourage VIP Card, which gives the holder discounts at trendy bars, stores and travel partners in top markets. HBO also is offering the “Entourage” penthouse suite at the Palms Hotel in Las Vegas, which includes the use of a Mercedes-Benz and a stocked bar (for $2,500 a night).

In the case of Showtime, the network is targeting a demographic not normally associated with premium channels: Xbox players. Showtime is giving away Xbox games to new subscribers. The channel is also papering hair salons to promote its upcoming series “Barbershop,” which debuts in August.

The most expensive campaign of the summer easily belongs to TNT, which is spending a reported-and unheard of-$50 million to market and promote “Into the West,” which premiered June 10 and concludes July 22. TNT is handling the miniseries like a motion picture, with a series of spot ads custom-designed for various psychodemographic profiles as well as more street-level promotions, such as street teams giving away 100,000 buffalo nickels.

Some networks target viewers in the heart of the competition by putting trailers in movie theater chains. The largest chain in the country, Regal Cinemas, has at least two cable partners this summer-USA and Animal Planet.

Animal Planet is trying to establish “Wild Wednesday” and “Whoa Sunday” with promotions at zoos and a summer photo contest.

USA and Regal are promoting the return of “The 4400,” which started its second season June 5. USA also is one of three networks with marketing plans to establish a new tagline. USA’s is “Characters Welcome,” while IFC claims “Uncut” and Style is promoting “Watch Pretty.”

ESPN, meanwhile, is continuing its focus on linking its network to the adoption of high definition, with a “5 on the 4th” promotion-airing five high-definition games on both ESPN and ESPN2 on Independence Day, accompanied by a Circuit City in-store campaign.

Bravo is promoting the premieres of an unprecedented nine series over 12 weeks, including branding Tuesdays as “Tuesday Night Reality Check” for the return of “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” and “Blow Out” (both premiered June 7).