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Custom Campaigns On the Rise

With MSOs focused heavily on boosting their ad sales businesses, large, multi-market promotions are becoming an important priority. Those planned for next year include Comedy Castaways, a Comcast/Comedy Central effort that will send winners from 10 markets to spend a getaway weekend with a top comedian; a Time Warner/TNT campaign that will fly a group of local winners to a VIP weekend complete with tickets to the NBA All-Stars game and a Cox Communications/ESPN traveling trivia game event that whisks winners off to either the X-Games, ESPY Awards or Great Outdoor Games.

Custom campaigns usually give operators access to more elaborate local prizes, which helps turn the promotions into bigger events.

A good example is Comedy Castaways, set to launch next year in 10 of the markets that will be owned by the newly merged Comcast/AT&T. The sweepstakes is designed to raise its sponsors' profile while convincing consumers to try out high speed access at Comcast kiosks situated in malls and other public places. Comedy Central is supplying the incentive: people who stop by a kiosk get to vote on their favorite of several featured standup comedians and also enter to win a trip or other prizes. Consumers can also enter by logging onto the sponsor's website.

The grand prize for the campaign, which Comedy Central developed after conversations probing Comcast's promotional needs, is $29,000.99 in cash plus the getaway weekend. The latter will be shared with local winners from each participating market. All winners fly to Casa Morada, a Florida Keys resort, where they'll enjoy the amenities for four days and three nights with a top comedian. Local winners also receive $1000 in cash.

Time Warner's All Stars Game promotion is designed to boost visibility for TNT's Thursday night NBA games. A sweepstakes winner plus his or her guest from each participating market gets the VIP treatment for a weekend centered around the All Stars Game. A national winner will also win a car.

"We think this combination will draw in more viewers to NBA games on TNT and more local sponsors," says Mark Mersky, vice president of corporate sales and marketing for Time Warner Cable Advertising. "We hope it will create a buzz among consumers and increase the fun factor."

Cox's 2 Minute Drill promotion allows consumers to experience ESPN up close, says Bobbi Hurt, marketing director of advertising sales at Cox Communications. The network created a traveling set for the game, which no longer airs on the network, but has attracted crowds of consumers in 10 markets this year. ESPN NFL analyst Mike Golic appears at the events, which Cox plans to continue staging in 2003. "It's a powerful promotion because ESPN rarely comes to a market with that much strength," Hurt says.

With MSOs shopping for more customized campaigns, some networks have been quietly reorganizing their affiliate ad sales efforts. ESPN has added staff so it can help MSOs with more customized promotions, Hurt says. Meanwhile, Scripps Networks has scrapped two long-running national promotions, Dream House Giveaway and Great Fall Fix-Up, in favor of working with MSOs to create custom efforts. Several are in the works, according to Janice Brandon, Scripps' vice president of affiliate advertising sales. Comedy Central also reports a more customized approach. "With the exception of Laugh Riots, we've made a total change of direction that started about a year ago," says Kurt Greves, vice president of affiliate relations for the network's central and western regions. "All of our other promotions are now customized to the cable operator."