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CTAM Summit 05: Fine-Tuning the Research

Jul 25, 2005  •  Post A Comment

TNT’s new summer series “Wanted,” about an elite group of cops taking on bad guys in Los Angeles, has an immediate and strong male appeal. But the show, debuting July 31, didn’t have much female appeal on the surface. That is, until the network layered the popular Bon Jovi song “Wanted Dead or Alive” into the ads and tested them with viewers.

“When [women] hear that song, they look up and it catches their attention,” said Steve Koonin, chief operating officer of TBS and TNT.

The network created female-centric spots to run on The WB and certain MTV shows, while sending male-focused spots to ESPN. That marketing plan was born out of TNT’s research efforts behind the show, and is an example of how research inexorably drives marketing. While it might seem obvious that a network would conduct research into a new show before it unleashes its marketing message, research is actually one of the quieter areas of the cable business, one that doesn’t get talked about. Yet it provides the backbone for most marketing decisions.

To best discern how to position a show, networks rely on Internet polling, program testing and dial tests, in which consumers turn a dial as they become more interested or less interested in different parts of a show.

“Cable networks are increasingly relying on research to fine-tune their marketing, especially with the proliferation of networks and content vying for people’s attention,” said Linda LaVigne, research director of the Cable & Telecommunications Association for Marketing.

In addition to specific show marketing, networks use broader research such as CTAM’s tracking study on viewing behavior to get a sense of how new technologies, including VOD and DVRs, are changing viewer habits.

ESPN uses research from Knowledge Networks/SRI, Forrester, The Yankee Group and Leichtman Research Group to understand big-picture trends. The network also recently conducted its own study on DVR usage. That study found that 70 percent of respondents said recording shows they would otherwise miss is the main reason they use their DVR. Just 28 percent of respondents said the main reason for using the DVR is to avoid commercials. In addition, the study found that 61 percent of TV viewing was done live. Such broad findings can help ESPN understand consumer behavior and the potential of new services such as VOD or the network’s broadband platform ESPN 360, said Glenn Enoch, VP of audience research at ESPN.

ESPN also uses specific local market research to devise affiliate marketing campaigns. Instead of developing a national ad campaign for its college football coverage, ESPN’s affiliate marketing staff looked at local market household ratings for games on ESPN and ESPN2 to determine which markets had the most interest in college football and then partnered with affiliates within those markets to create targeted ads in local newspapers and radio.

Networks also use research to learn how to reach specific demographic groups. When Lifetime wanted to mount a major marketing campaign aimed at Hispanics, it conducted a study on how to sell Lifetime to that audience. “We partnered with an operator who is also trying to sell-in Hispanic tiers,” said Tim Brooks, executive VP of research at Lifetime. “We financed a study and shared subscriber lists, and we worked together to develop a questionnaire about cable service and cable packages and our specific networks.”

The study addressed the importance of Spanish-language content, Hispanic stars and price. That study became the basis for Lifetime’s marketing efforts to Hispanics last year. Research is even more critical when it comes to original content because there’s no history with that material as there is with acquired content, said Darren Campo, senior VP of programming strategy at Court TV. Court TV tested various marketing messages for “Psychic Detectives” and “Takedown” to learn which messages resonated most, Mr. Campo said.

Mr. Koonin at TBS and TNT describes research as a microphone for viewers to express their feelings about the network. For instance, TNT’s well-known “We Know Drama” rebrand in 2001 was born solely from viewer research that found people want TV programs that engage their hearts and minds-i.e., drama. The network has moved to first in ratings for cable networks since then.

On a show basis, TNT created an elaborate marketing campaign for its recent miniseries “Into the West” that was based on extensive research conducted in the first quarter, Mr. Koonin said. That research revealed six “consumer mind-sets” for the epic: truth seekers, history buffs, family saga watchers, action seekers, Western lovers and Generation Y.

The first installment of the show drew more than 21 million viewers for multiple runs during its first weekend after premiering June 10.

But sometimes marketing efforts don’t work as well.

Earlier this month, on a billboard in Times Square, actor Pauly Shore held a dollar bill. Above his head the sign read, “My new show will make you laugh or I’ll send you a dollar.”

TBS offered the money-back guarantee for “Minding the Store,” Mr. Shore’s crack at resurrecting both his career and the Comedy Store, the venue owned by his mother, because TBS’s research revealed that the biggest marketing challenge was not whether people were aware of the show but getting them to watch, Mr. Koonin said.

“The concern is with Pauly Shore you might think it’s a train wreck,” he said. After all, Mr. Shore is a Hollywood has-been with his days as MTV stoner personality and the star of several goofball comedies long behind him.

That’s why the network chose to run full-page ads in The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times and USA Today as well as the billboard, effectively bribing people to watch the show. If they don’t like it, they can send in a self-addressed stamped envelope and the reason they didn’t laugh to TBS.

Despite the catchy ads, the show premiered July 17 to lackluster ratings. As of presstime, no one had requested a dollar, TBS said.