Executives at Court TV are veterans when it comes to collaborating with their cable partners on marketing promotions. The network’s “Local Heroes” campaign has garnered several awards and generated publicity over the past few years. But Court TV entered into new territory when it teamed up with Time Warner Cable to promote the January return of the Dominick Dunne’s Power, Privilege and Justice series by using video on demand, the Internet and guerrilla marketing street teams.
“We knew we wanted to do something special to relaunch this show,” Court TV senior vice president of affiliate relations Ellen Schned said. “So we created the video-on-demand and Internet components with Time Warner that began running one month before the show was shown on the linear network.”
Court TV took one of its six new Power, Privilege and Justice episodes — the show dealt with the 1997 murder of fashion guru Gianni Versace — as an exclusive for its video-on-demand promotion. The network also created exclusive programming including an interview with Dunne and a montage of the six shows already in the can specifically for on demand. The shows were seen via VOD for the month leading up to the Jan. 19 relaunch of the series. Time Warner Cable agreed to pull the episode from Court TV’s on-demand lineup for a few weeks after the launch to push viewers to the linear showings. It was then reintroduced via video on demand a few weeks later, according to Time Warner Cable senior director for VOD Eric Goldberg.
“For Court TV, this promotion was a good way of kicking off the network’s Dominick Dunne series,” Goldberg said. “For Time Warner Cable, it was an opportunity to show them the value of the VOD channel.”
This wasn’t Court TV’s first usage of on demand — the network provides 10 hours a month of on-demand fare to Time Warner — but it is the first time it has used video on demand and the Internet to promote a series on the linear network, said Linda Finney, Court TV vice president of marketing. “This was a test case for us,” she said. “But we are thrilled with the results. We will pick and choose very carefully what we do next, but we will do this again, I am sure of that. This was a great show to spotlight because it’s so personality driven and the ancillary programming was easy to create and was interesting to our viewers.”
Court TV worked with all of Time Warner Cable’s divisions to insert cross-channel ad spots promoting Power, Privilege and Justice on VOD. At the same time, the network worked closely with Time Warner’s Road Runner group to create an online sweepstakes promoting the new shows. Time Warner agreed to send an e-mail to all its subscribers inviting them to enter a sweepstakes to win cash and other Court TV schwag items. The “Live the High Life with Dominick Dunne” sweepstakes garnered 12,000 hits, according to Schned. “We were ecstatic about that,” she said. “Those are terrific numbers.”
Court TV also sent guerrilla teams into several markets — including some non-Time Warner markets — to promote the show prior to its launch on the linear network. “We had three street teams handing out watch-and-win scratch cards promoting the show,” Schned said. “We coordinated with the systems in each of the markets we went to to let them know we were coming to town … They say in advertising that it takes three impressions to get a point across. We did that by reaching different audiences four ways — cross-channel spots; the on-demand window; the online sweepstakes; and our local grass roots contest.”
This was also the first time Court TV had used on demand as a marketing vehicle. Indeed, the network has been slow to roll out an on-demand strategy, and its only on-demand distribution deal to date is with Time Warner. “We’re still evaluating VOD models,” Schned said. “This deal with Time Warner was unique for us, but it worked so well we would like to do more.” She also said Court TV is currently negotiating deals with other cable operators so more sneak peek promotions using video on demand are likely in the future.
OTHERS FOLLOW SUIT
“This was a unique opportunity to use VOD as a promotional vehicle,” Goldberg said. Most networks repurpose their linear programming or have different fare on their VOD channels. This was the first time a network used its on-demand channel to promote a show prior to its launch on a linear network. Since Court TV’s usage of VOD to promote Power, Privilege and Justice, other networks including A&E have followed suit with great success, Goldberg said. “The sneak peek worked well for Court TV and other networks saw how successful it was and have chosen to do some similar promotions as well.”
Part of what made the sneak peek work so well was the ancillary programming attached to the Versace episode, Goldberg said.
“Operators want differentiated programming for their VOD channels and what we created fit the mold nicely for us and them,” Schned added.
“Court TV said they wanted us to promote their VOD channel, and we said we would if they gave something to promote it with,” Goldberg said. “They did and we committed to providing cross-channel spots and their affiliate teams worked with all our divisions to run the spots. Many networks are skeptical of VOD. But once they see it as a promotional vehicle, the value of VOD changes.”
Court TV and Time Warner are still collecting ratings data on the sneak peek and how it affected the show’s ratings on the linear network. Both sides are very pleased with the results and plan more such promotions in the future.
“We are very happy with the way [the Power, Privilege and Justice sneak peek] turned out,” Goldberg said. “VOD has been fuzzy for the networks. We can’t make old library content work. It either has to be convenient, new or unique. The Court TV sneak peek was all of those. It was exactly how we’d like to see free VOD work.”
If there is one thing that both the executives from Time Warner and Court TV would change when they do this next time, it would be to have more time to plan, Goldberg and Schned said.
“We had a few weeks to put this all together,” Goldberg said. “We’d probably liked to have had at least a month. If we had more lead time, it would’ve been easier to do the cross-channel spots and placement.”
“Court TV’s Dunne promotion is the perfect example of what networks can do with VOD,” Goldberg said. “Networks will be able to give us their best programming and use it to drive viewership and interest. This show followed the formula we want and it worked for everyone.”
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