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No Summer Vacation for Cable Marketers

Jul 6, 2008  •  Post A Comment

While others are enjoying summer vacations, cable networks are working overtime to promote the original programs they’re launching.
With the broadcast networks mostly airing reruns and reality shows, cable is again stepping into the void with a number of scripted shows. While many cable networks program originals in other parts of the year, the summer remains a hot spot, as it has for the past decade.
“It’s a big, big time for us. So we’re out there making a lot of noise,” said Chris McCumber, executive VP of marketing, digital and brand, USA Network, which already launched “In Plain Sight” this summer. “The issue is you have a lot of other networks out at the same time making a lot of noise, so you have to figure out ways to be smarter and more buzz-worthy and go beyond your normal paid media buys.”
The competition—for viewers, ratings points and revenue—puts a premium on marketing efforts. Network marketing executives say that they must go beyond the traditional forms of promotion on their own air in order to be noticed. They still fill their own air with promotions for new shows and buy spots on other networks, magazine ads and billboards, but it’s other stunts—online and elsewhere—that may make the difference.
With “In Plain Sight’s” plot based on the witness protection program, Mr. McCumber pointed to a promotion that USA ran in airports to build buzz for the show.
The network awarded 10 travel prizes per week in what it called the “undisclosed location sweepstakes” so that winners could hide themselves, he said.
There was also a Facebook application to which the network gave the ungainly name “How Well Do You Know Your Friends When They’re Hidden in Plain Sight?” Participants were given clues about their online friends from their Facebook pages.
“It became a big viral hit,” Mr. McCumber said.
While some networks focus on launching original shows, others must make sure viewers come back to programs that were popular last season. This year, because of the Writers Guild of America strike, viewers haven’t seen a new episode of some cable shows for a year.
FX, a network that defined itself by its originals, won’t have “Rescue Me” in the lineup this summer, and it won’t be launching a new show or a new season of returning shows until September. But the network has already begun trying to build buzz for its latest effort, “Sons of Anarchy,” about motorcycle gangs. It also will pump up the final season of “The Shield” and a new season of “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” said FX President John Landgraf.
“We’re trying to find tactics that provide some longer-lead awareness,” Mr. Landgraf said. FX has been promoting “Sons” during programming watched by men, including NASCAR, baseball and horse-racing. It’s also going to motorcycle gatherings such as the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in South Dakota.
“Philadelphia,” meanwhile, will have a panel at this month’s Comic-Con in San Diego.
Cable marketing in summer also means helping viewers pick up plot threads. Lifetime confronted that challenge with “Army Wives.”
“I think we had to remind people where we were in the show and also had to get the message out that it was season two and it was a big deal,” said Lew Goldstein, co-chief marketing officer at Lifetime.
While cable originals mostly avoid direct competition with broadcast debuts, marketers have to make them stand out in the crowd.
“It’s definitely getting to be a more crowded marketplace,” said Guy Slattery, senior VP of marketing at A&E Network, which is joining the list of cable networks offering original scripted dramas this month with “The Cleaner.” “We have to make a bit more noise to get noticed.”
A&E geared up for the premiere of “The Cleaner” by generating a big audience for the miniseries “Andromeda Strain,”; both star Benjamin Bratt.
“The Cleaner” will be the focus of A&E’s biggest marketing effort in several years. A&E’s ads for the series emphasize that the drama is based on a real person, to mesh with the network’s reality-based programming.
USA will be coming to the table with new seasons of “Burn Notice,” “Psyche” and “Monk.”
For Miami-set “Burn Notice,” USA is taking to the beach, with the slogan “Sun, Surf and Espionage.” It’s taking over beaches in New York, New Jersey, Chicago and Los Angeles, with agents organizing volleyball tournaments and handing out swag including bags stuffed with “Burn Notice” towels, Frisbees and sunglasses. The network also plans to build a 50-ton sand castle in New York’s Times Square on Thursday, to coincide with the show’s second-season premiere.
Turner Broadcasting is looking for new ways to cater to fans of its original shows, as well as beating the bushes for new viewers, said Jeff Gregor, chief marketing officer at Turner Entertainment Networks.
“We know that our superfans for ‘The Closer’ really, really make an appointment to watch the episodes live,” he said.
That means appealing to moms who have to juggle TV viewing with meal preparation. So the company got together with “Super Suppers,” a company that sells prepared meals..
On Mondays, Super Supper stores will offer special meals called “Closer in the Kitchen,” which will be packaged with a DVD sampler from season three of “The Closer” and a sneak peak at season four.
Similarly, for “The Bill Engvall Show,” Turner is putting DVDs inside pizza boxes and promoting family packs at Six Flags amusement parks to reach a family audience. It also had a Father’s Day promotion at minor league ballparks.
The return of AMC’s “Mad Men” is being boosted by promos featuring awards it has won and praise in the press, including cover stories in Entertainment Weekly and the New York Times Magazine.
“We feel enormously fortunate because of the tremendous accolades that series had gotten and the momentum that that gives us as we go into the actual marketing of the show,” said Linda Schupack, senior VP of marketing for AMC.
As a show about advertising, “Mad Men” has some nifty promotional ideas up its sleeve. In a deal with the New York Times, readers will be able to go to what the paper calls a nano site filled with coverage of the show.
The network also is transforming the subway’s Times Square shuttle to recall the “Mad Men” world in 1962. The platforms will feature life-size images of the show’s central character, Don Draper. Catchphrases from the show will be displayed inside the cars and there will be people in period dress in the station handing out tune-in information.
With paid media, including trailers in movie theaters, “We wanted to appeal to a broader audience,” Ms. Schupack said.

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