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Tuning In to ‘Promo Entertainment’

May 18, 2008  •  Post A Comment

In the past, tune-in advertising for TV shows consisted of buying radio, TV Guide and possibly outdoor advertising.
No longer.
New-wave tune-in advertising isn’t just about airing promos anymore.
John Miller, chief marketing officer for NBC Universal Television and president of the NBC Agency, calls this “promo programming or promo entertainment.” This doesn’t go just for retail-based video networks, but digital Internet media, where TV program clips can be seen, and where networks have diverted some marketing dollars.
“It almost works like a radio spot when we buy it,” says Mr. Miller, who adds that you can do tune-in advertising for a specific show on a specific night, telling viewers to “tune in tonight.” “With digital,” he said, “you get the impact immediately.”
For the miniseries debut of “Knight Rider” in February, NBC took over the whole front page of MySpace.com on the day it debuted. “Before you logged onto the site, you received a message from KITT (the series’ talking car),” Mr. Miller said. “It was pretty effective.” NBC has worked with MySpace for other show launches.
NBC’s digital spending is close to what it spends on radio, Mr. Miller said. In the past, radio has grabbed the lion’s share of TV networks’ media-spend.
Retail-based networks have been growing in importance as well, but they are pricey, Mr. Miller said, and are used selectively—for instance, in launching key new shows such as “Bionic Woman” or “Heroes.”
Plummeting manufacturing costs for plasma flat-screen TV monitors have created a rush of new off-air networks in supermarkets and doctors’ offices, gas stations and malls.
Out-of-home advertising is now a $7.2 billion business, with alternative media and video platforms accounting for 16% of the entire market, pulling in $1.2 billion. According to trade group the Outdoor Advertising Association of America, overall revenue climbed 7% in 2007 over the year before.
By some estimates there are now some 600 place-based video platforms. For TV networks looking to market TV shows—using long clips of program content as promotional messages—these video networks complement the already growing base of digital Internet destinations in use.
“Out-of-home [media] is really enjoying a growth period,” said George Schweitzer, president of the CBS Marketing Group. “A lot of this is the direct result of the Internet. It’s all about specialization and filtering. The question is: How do entertainment brands break out?”
Internet sites such as MySpace, Yahoo! and Google have helped fuel the growth of off-air video networks in supermarkets, bars, pharmacies, airports, elevators, gas stations, auto repair shops, doctors’ offices, elevators, malls, airports, train and bus stations, and—in one of the most smirked-about public places—urinals.
“Some of these [place-based media] we used to joke about—no more,” said Vince Manze, president of creative services for NBC Universal Television.
That’s because TV networks own airwaves that aren’t all they’re cracked up to be anymore as viewership slides.. Although broadcasters have been able to stem the slide in recent years, this season once again revealed some major concerns: Networks have lost a shocking 15% of their 18- to 49-year-old viewer ratings points versus a year ago.
CBS has taken a wide-ranging position when it comes to out-of-home, making revenue-sharing agreements with media companies, as well as buying up many retail-based networks like SignStory. That supermarket-based network, found in 1,400 locations, is now the network’s base of out-of-home businesses under a new moniker, CBS Outernet.
For CBS and other media companies, these deals generally are a two-pronged approach: a place to market TV shows, and as stand-alone businesses expanding what they do best: selling advertising time. All this comes at a good time, as many out-of-home media companies have seen major double-digit revenue growth in recent years.
One of the oldest forms of advertising, outdoor media, also is finding new life with the advent of digital, changeable billboards.
Outdoor media has taken on new value, especially in light of DVRs and TiVo. “The good thing about billboards,” Mr. Schweitzer said, “[is] you can’t turn it off; you can’t fast-forward it.”
NBC’s efforts are focused around its NBC Everywhere business, which is being sold to advertisers through NBC Local Media. One of NBC’s main attractions is with Premier Retail Networks, which is in 1,000 supermarket locations grabbing 50 million impressions a month.
NBC Everywhere also includes the Newborn Channel, a maternity ward network; NBC@The Game, an arena video network; NBC@The Gym; NBC on Campus; and NBC@Times Square; as well as networks in taxi cabs, at gas pumps, in schools and in online games through a partnership with video game publisher IGA.
“I don’t know if we want to be everywhere and anywhere,” said Mark French, senior VP/general manager of NBC Everywhere. “I want to be everywhere consumers want us.”
One of the biggest and growing out-of-home platforms is in-theater cinema advertising. National CineMedia, with some 17,000 screens, has done advertising with virtually all major TV networks for its pre-feature show “FirstLook.” NCM also has major programming deals with NBC Universal, Turner, Discovery and A&E for content that runs on “FirstLook.”
“TV revenues have grown dramatically,” said Cliff Marks, president of sales and marketing, National CineMedia. TV program advertising is a natural fit in cinemas.
For example, he noted Discovery Channel’s miniseries “Planet Earth” last year yielded research showing 60% of moviegoers who viewed clips of the show intended to watch the series. For Turner and its NBA Playoff games, 66% of moviegoers said they intended to watch some of the games. For the launch of NBC’s “Heroes,” moviegoers registered a 70% intent-to-view number for the series.
“You can’t get [research] like this anywhere else,” said Mr. Marks.
Like broadcast networks, cable networks also use these new national media alternatives. But ad-supported cable networks—apart from HBO—typically have smaller marketing budgets per program compared to networks and can’t buy all kinds of new media.
TV program syndicators also have limited marketing dollars in this arena.
“Stations help us determine where the dollars go market by market,” said Betsy Bergman, VP of marketing for NBCU Domestic Television Distribution. She said NBC is expanding into digital, but much of it is driven locally on stations’ own Web sites.
Many new place-based video networks are strictly a platform for national advertisers, such as for recent startup Indoor Direct Media, which focuses on TV screens in fast-food restaurants such as Wendy’s, Hardee’s, Denny’s, Arby’s, CiCi’s Pizza and Carl’s Jr.
“People spend anywhere from 27 minutes to 44 minutes eating,” said Fred Margolin, CEO of Indoor Direct, which made a recent programming deal with CBS. “Let’s face it, in some of these places it can be boring. We are entertaining them.”
One of the biggest transitions for future tune-in TV marketing will be adjusting to new network programs that debut year-round rather than being jammed into a traditional two-week launch period in September.
NBC’s Mr. Miller estimated the five broadcast networks during the September 2007 fall launch period spent around $200 million for all marketing, including the value of running promos on their own airwaves.
New TV scheduling methods will mean spreading marketing dollars more evenly throughout the year. Will there be savings? “We can probably save some money,” Mr. Miller said.
TV networks will try to use their content as leverage, combined with revenue-sharing advertising deals, to keep costs at bay for newer media platforms. Overall, many executives believe TV marketing dollar growth will be slow-moving.
“For tune-in advertising, the pie really hasn’t grown,” said Mike Benson, executive VP of marketing, advertising and promotion for ABC Entertainment. “It’s really a question of what you can afford.”

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