Warner Bros. Stretches Syndication Launch Budgets

Sep 2, 2007  •  Post A Comment

In his first year as Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution president, Ken Werner made it a priority to create innovative, cost-efficient marketing plans to launch the syndicator’s new 2007-08 shows.
Two of the industry’s highest-profile syndicated shows debuting in upcoming weeks, first-run strip “TMZ” and the off-network series “Two and a Half Men,” will come from Mr. Werner’s camp. The executive and his team are facing high expectations that they’ll be able to capitalize on both brands.
Adding to the pressure of Mr. Werner’s first two syndication launches with the company, marketing budgets are down across the board at distribution companies. At the same time, holding viewers’ attention has never been tougher.
Mr. Werner decided to market smarter rather than bigger. He commissioned consumer research surveys for both “TMZ” and “Two and a Half Men,” said Mr. Werner, a former WB executive who took over the syndication division in August 2006.
The reports helped Mr. Werner and his team craft targeted promotions they otherwise might not have come up with, they said.
“One of the top priorities for us when I assumed this position was to have a top-notch marketing department for our shows,” Mr. Werner said. “Based on my experience at The WB, I was acutely aware how difficult it is to get one’s message out to consumers — and with syndication it’s even more difficult, with less money and less consistency in station lineups.”
The consolidation of the syndicated TV marketplace has brought the disappearance of the days when syndicators could justify $15 million to $20 million launch campaigns that blanketed the media landscape. Viewer erosion has lowered the bar of syndicated program success from a 4.0 household rating a decade ago to a 1.0 rating today.
Along with the falling ratings, marketing budgets shrank. Some launch campaigns for first-run series in recent years have spent as little as $1 million, according to syndication executives who asked not to be named.
Mr. Werner said none of his series have marketing budgets that low.
“We spent an unprecedented amount of money on these surveys, and the information we received was very enlightening,” he said.
For the upcoming syndication launches, he met with Susan Kantor, senior VP of marketing, Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution and Telepictures Productions, to discuss the direction of the campaigns.
“Given the limited resources we have as a syndicator, we needed to figure out how we were going to break through the clutter, identify our target audience and reach out to them so they are actually informed about what the show is,” Mr. Werner said.
The research for “TMZ” polled three different audiences: the general population who might be interested, newsmagazine audiences and fans of the TMZ.com Web site that spawned the show.
Ms. Kantor said the surveys showed that audiences liked seeing celebrities as real people rather than as a promotional vehicle for their latest project; they liked “TMZ’s” sense of humor; and they felt there wasn’t a show out there that was similar.
“‘TMZ’ was already a brand unto itself,” she said. “But we needed to explain to the rest of the country what this show was about, and drive people from the Web site to the show and from the show to the Web site.”
“Online now, on TV this fall” was one slogan used by the company to promote TMZ. Another, “You made them stars, we make them real,” was intended to capitalize on the uncensored attitude of the show.
On a local basis, the company targeted specific audiences, placing ads on kiosks in front of certain stores within specific shopping malls where “TMZ” audiences were most likely to pass by.
In addition, the company opted to target mediums where the company would be able showcase breaking news from the Web site and series.
“With limited resources, we had to develop a strategy where we could incubate something and grow it, so we had to be selective in our markets and media plays to maximize impact,” Mr. Werner said.
On “Two and a Half Men,” the company was faced with the choice of playing up the sexual humor of the show, or downplaying it when it came to the marketing strategy. After testing what people did and didn’t like about the show, Warner Bros. opted to go for the jokes.
“That humor came back as the main defining point of the show, so we decided not to shy away from it,” Ms. Kantor said. “In fact, in all of our marketing materials, we decided to play that up. Charlie Sheen was our key in likability and women weren’t offended by the sexual humor. That allowed us to give our campaign more depth. Without that research, we probably wouldn’t have embraced the humor of the show.”
The company created a multiphase campaign for “Two and a Half Men,” beginning with promos showcasing what the show was about and reaching out to consumers who may not have had the opportunity to see it.
The second phase focused on the key relationships between characters in the program, the third featured the cast singing a jingle for stations and the fourth phase involved a “Manly Rules” strategy that used clips of the show.
“These two series may have been greatly anticipated within the industry, but that really means nothing when it comes to consumers,” Mr. Werner said. “It was up to us to play it smarter when approaching these audiences.”


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