Promo Hurdles for MyNetworkTV

Aug 21, 2006  •  Post A Comment

With so many broadcast network shows debuting in the fall, any network is challenged to get traction for a programming concept that is unfamiliar to a large section of the TV audience.

For MyNetworkTV, which is scheduled to debut Sept. 5, the task of launching this fall is even harder.

MyNetworkTV is tasked with more than just introducing a new kind of comedy or an edgy one-hour. It is introducing a format new to prime time: English-language telenovelas, or, as the network calls them, “limited drama series”—in addition to unveiling a whole new network.

Executives of News Corp.-owned MyNetworkTV, a new service that was announced in February, already have found getting the message out about the new broadcaster more difficult than they originally anticipated. So they devised a two-phase promotional program to explain the concept to viewers. They’re also in the throes of a 30-city tour with the stars of its programs.

The new network will feature a nightly two-hour block of limited drama series in which the story lines of two shows play out successively Monday through Friday for 13 consecutive weeks. Recaps are planned for Saturday nights.

MyNetworkTV is employing “all of the News Corp. synergies” to promote itself, according to Twentieth TV President and Chief Operating Officer Bob Cook, who is overseeing MyNetworkTV’s promotional strategy. News Corp.-owned cable properties FX, National Geographic Channel and Fox News are running ads about the new service, while promotions have also run in TV Guide, on satellite service DirecTV and on social networking Web site MySpace.com, Mr. Cook said in an interview last week.

Still, even the leverage of a huge media conglomerate doesn’t ease the challenge of explaining something so new to viewers, he said.

“There was probably a greater confusion factor than we anticipated,” Mr. Cook said of the limited drama series, particularly in smaller, more rural markets. “It is going to take a little longer. It was easy for them to understand their favorite shows on WB and UPN are now on the CW. For MyNetworkTV, it’s a bigger challenge.”

The debuts of MyNetworkTV and CBS- and Warner Bros.-owned The CW, which is being created from a merger of UPN and The WB, mark the first time national broadcasters have launched in the United States in more than a decade.

In most cases, MyNetworkTV will replace either The WB or UPN in individual markets.

To make life easier for stations and viewers, the MyNetworkTV promotional plan was split into separate campaigns-one for the transformation of local stations from UPN or The WB to MyNetworkTV, and one for the familiarization of the programming format.

“We broke it down into two phases,” Mr. Cook said. “The first was to turn yourself from UPN or The WB into the ‘My’ brand.”

For local stations, that has meant incorporating the “My” into local promotions in recent weeks. In some cases that is accomplished through the station’s dial number, such as “My9,” by pairing it with regional team sports coverage, a la “MyYankees,” or even branding locally aired off-network syndicated product with monikers such as “MyFriends.”

As part of the first promo phase, MyNetworkTV supplied stations everything they needed to personalize their message.

“We encouraged them to play with the ‘My’ brand,” Mr. Cook said, “and we gave them all kinds of variations on logos, graphics and musical stings.”

In Detroit, the process of rebranding and introducing the MYNetworkTV concept has been “kind of like birthing a baby,” said WMYD-TV’s President and General Manager Sarah Norat-Phillips.

The Granite-owned station, the former WB affiliate in the No. 11 market, is embracing the “My” campaign because “It gives a great deal of access to the consumer, to the viewer, in a way that is ownership-driven,” Ms. Norat-Phillips said.

With MyNetworkTV only launching two new series in the fall, the two-part strategy allows local stations to better focus promotion, rather than trying to introduce six nights and dozens of shows to viewers.

“They have concentrated the marketing plan,” she said. “We’re finding it very effective.”

The promotion is also being pushed on rival broadcast stations in certain markets. Wherever News Corp. has a station duopoly, “the Fox stations are promoting MyNetwork and visa versa,” Mr. Cook said, noting that other station groups with a MyNetworkTV affiliate as part of their duopoly are being encouraged to do the same thing.

Viewer Education

The next step of MyNetworkTV’s promotion campaign, which started in July, was to introduce the audience to “the kind of programming service that they would be encountering,” Mr. Cook said.

Instead of educating viewers on the 13-week arc of each Monday-through-Saturday series, a programming model borrowed from the popular Spanish-language telenovela prime-time soap operas, the message is “every night it’s the same drama, with 52 weeks all-original, and also in hi-def,” Mr. Cook said. “We are the first all-original, all-hi-def network.”

For on-air promotions, MyNetworkTV stations have been running teases since early August that feature actors from the broadcaster’s debuting dramas, “Desire” and “Table for Three,” talking about themselves in character. A tag line in the tease promotes the series’ Sept. 5 launch.

On-air spots showing scenes from the dramas, which Mr. Cook described as “having the feel of movie trailers,” are now starting to also be incorporated into the on-air promo mix.

Once the shows debut, MyNetworkTV plans to promote through Mynetworktv.com, which includes all the requisite digital original content bells and whistles, such as blogs and video clips. The network’s Web site is already featuring prequels with characters from the dramas.

The promotional coup de grace is a 30-market barnstorming tour that began July 3 and wraps up Sept. 7, Mr. Cook said.

MyNetworkTV has rented a jet and is shuttling cast members and production staff around the country for local media blitzes. But rather than focusing on a single market, MyNetworkTV is taking a regional approach. At a stop in Dallas, affiliates and other media outlets from 19 surrounding markets were invited to attend. In the Atlanta stop, 14 other markets were included.

The locally based promotion is a key to the MyNetworkTV strategy, Mr. Cook said. “Networks are all about localism and about individual television stations.”