Courting Viewers

The verdict is in at Court TV: Partnering with local cable systems and sponsors on advertising promotions is a good foundation for a national branding campaign.

This month, Court TV, which calls itself The Investigation Channel, and household-goods marketer Reckitt Benckiser, the maker of Lysol, are teaming up for a comprehensive child-safety fingerprinting tour that will take place at 1,440 Kroger-owned supermarket locations nationwide.

The tour, which began June 5 and will run through the end of September, provides parents and guardians the opportunity to have their children digitally fingerprinted for free. For Court TV, the project is more than a good deed; it's an active promotion that local cable operators can be proud to attach their names to. And that counts. Indeed, dozens of times yearly, dozens of networks reach out to local cable operators. It's good for the community, and it's good for business. Even so, the Court TV effort seems extraordinarily ambitious.

At each stop of the child-safety tour, children can get a free 8x10 ID printout that includes a digital photo, fingerprints, and personal information, such as height, weight, and hair color.

Throughout the 16 weeks of the tour, nine co-branded Court TV and Lysol vans will visit two sites each a day—totaling 90 events per week—setting up digital fingerprinting centers at selected Kroger-owned stores. Court TV will run national and local promotional spots to raise awareness of the tour and will provide in-depth tour and location information on

The fingerprinting promotion, which Court TV started in March, has so far produced $1.5 million in local ad-sales revenues, says Tom Wolfe, vice president of affiliate ad sales.

"There are two main benefits: building brand awareness and cross-channel exposure," Wolfe says, noting that the fingerprinting efforts are also advertised on other channels on the cable system. "We have seen growth in local markets after similar promotions have run. But a promotion's life goes beyond the single event. We can come back and run it on the channel a few months after it happens. And that's why it's so successful."

In May in Miami, Comcast, working with Court TV, took the promotion to Vista BMW. That same month, Advance/Newhouse-owned Bright House Networks in Bakersfield, Calif., took the Court TV fingerprinting public-service initiative to a Honda dealer and brought in more than 300 kids in three hours.

"We really scored some major points with our advertiser, Barber Honda," says Gordon Galindo, local sales manager for Bright House Networks, which has 2 million subscribers in cable systems in and around Bakersfield; Tampa Bay, Fla.; Central Florida; Indianapolis; Birmingham, Ala.; and Detroit, as well as several smaller systems in Alabama and the Florida Panhandle. He says, "It's promotions like Court TV's digital fingerprinting that help separate us from all the other media."

Court TV has signed on with a local Comcast ad-sales outlet in Florida for a promotional event coming up in August with Ft. Meyers Toyota.

"This promotion enabled us to close a yearly deal with a client, who was previously month to month, and helped generate sizable incremental revenue," says Dara Baer, local sales manager for Comcast Spotlight, the cable company's ad-sales unit, in Ft. Meyers. "Court TV's local ratings are great, one of the best in the country. We average a 1.23 rating in 2003 and are tracking that in 2004. Our account executives make Court TV part of all their buys for women, and clients like the fact that viewers 'stay tuned' to Court TV right through the commercials, due to the suspenseful nature of the programming."

That's music to Court TV's ears, especially because it tries to sell itself as something more than the "courtroom channel" it used to be. To build on these local promotions across the country, Court TV has expanded its local-ad sales team.

"We've doubled our staff," Wolfe says, "and have more training, more local upfronts with an ROI theme— 'Return On Investigation'—and that a buy on Court TV is a smart buy."

Court TV is emphasizing what Wolfe says are its "strong ratings, desirable demos of women 25-54, as well as three minutes per hour of avails. Court TV offers more gross ratings points than most networks, and viewers stay tuned longer for the programming and commercials."

Another attraction Court TV is ginning up for the summer is the Mobile Investigation Unit promotion: a 23-market national tour that serves as a traveling forensics show.

So far, Comcast Spotlight in Pittsburgh has sold it to the Pittsburgh Zoo and Aquarium, and, with a nod toward integration, Comcast's marketing group is bringing its own promotions. Time Warner in Columbus, Ohio, sold it to Magic Mountain, and the Time Warner system in Milwaukee sold it to Summerfest, a big outdoor festival that attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors. Time Warner in Minneapolis brought in a new sponsor, the Minnesota Transitions School, and teamed it with Target and other family-friendly, high-traffic stores.

"We'll also have tagable spots and 'clue cards,' which enable shoppers to win gifts if they visit the participating stores and find the clue," Wolfe says. "It's a great way to drive traffic to advertisers' venues while building brand awareness."