Fox Family Logs Yule Promotional Push

Many broadcast television and cable networks have marketing and programming plans tied to the yuletide. But Fox Family Channel officials are intent on "owning" Christmas.

The network hasn't just slated some 200 hours of Christmas-themed movies and specials, most for primetime, it's also rolling out extensive marketing and promotional support to build consumer awareness of its holiday ambition.

Such national and local support is important because "25 Days" is a major programming investment, noted Fox Family president of distribution John Burns.

"So much good programming goes unwatched because people are unaware of it," he said last week. "We've already seen a good pop in our ratings" just five days into the Christmas stunt, he added.

Fox Family has mixed some first-run product in with the mostly off-network fare. Originals will include the movie Special Delivery
starring Andy Dick (Dec. 10), plus the specials All-Star WinterCelebration: The Nobel Concert

with Elton John, Natalie Cole and others (Dec. 19); and the animated special Santa Mouse and the Ratdeer
(Dec. 22).

In addition, last week Fox Family aired the U.S. premiere of Robbie the Reindeer in Hooves of Fire, according to BBC Worldwide Americas, which licensed the animated film.

Two weeks ago at the Western Show, Fox Family distributed fold-out December program-guide brochures. The cover copy read, "We've got Christmas all wrapped up."

Fox Family's holiday titles include a batch of classic cartoon specials with proven track records on the broadcast networks, such as 'Twas the Night Before Christmas, Santa Claus Is Coming to Town, The Little Drummer Boy
and Rudolph's Shiny New Year.

Those 200 hours, up from 180 last year, represent a new peak in holiday programming, said senior vice president of scheduling and marketing strategy Tom Cosgrove. "No one has more."

By comparison, the network's recent "13 Days of Halloween" stunt involved 100 hours of themed programming.

The holiday marketing support also is a record sum, "well into the millions [of dollars]," Cosgrove said. "This is our biggest single promotion of the year."

The idea is to "be where families are going to be," Cosgrove said. Since travel plays a big role in the holidays, the "25 Days" logo will be emblazoned on 3 million United Air Lines Inc. and Northwest Airlines luggage tags.

The network will advertise via commuter-rail posters in New York City and taxi tops in the top three DMAs. Its marketing arsenal will also include shopping-mall kiosks and movie-theater slides in the top 15 markets, as well as large posters in book stores, toy stores and skating rinks.

There will also be branded coffee-cup wraps in 200 coffee shops in the top three DMAs

In addition, 25 Fox Family employees in Los Angeles volunteered to have the logo shrink-wrapped on their cars by Autowrap Inc. Some of them tooled around the Los Angeles Convention Center during the Western Show.

Three branded sport-utility vehicles will visit 15 key markets, giving out hot apple cider at such high-traffic locales as shopping malls, Christmas tree lots and grocery stores.

Hershey Foods Corp. and RadioShack Corp. will supplement Fox Family's marketing salvos with a tie-in sales promotion, Cosgrove said. Besides the top prize-a $25,000 "Christmas bonus"-consumers can win 25 pounds of Hershey chocolates and $25 RadioShack gift certificates.

Several other advertisers will sponsor the "25 Days" programming, including Hasbro Inc., The Lego Group, Wendy's International Inc., Cisco Systems Inc., Outback Steakhouse Inc. and jewelry chain Zales.

Fox Family's "25 Days" will also be evident in on-air promotional spots and more typical media buys in Sunday newspaper supplements, the radio and online, he said.

The network's 25-market "Give the Gift of Christmas" affiliate promotion phase-which reached 6 million subscribers-is much smaller than the effort that backed "13 Days of Halloween," said Burns. The Halloween stunt's affiliate-promotion component reached 40 million subscribers through more than 200 operators.

That's because the two promotions were close together and because the yuletide effort is "much more targeted," he explained. "There's something to be said for mass and also for strategic direction."

The network's cobranded "Give the Gift" giveaway ran until Thanksgiving, although related taggable tune-in promos will continue until Dec. 25.

Viewers in participating markets nominated families or charitable organizations in need, and each affiliate awarded a local grand prize worth thousands of dollars. That prize package included a decorated Christmas tree, a holiday dinner, a 32-inch color TV set, a $500 gift certificate to a local retailer, a visit from Santa Claus and a Fox Family holiday gift box (including a fleece blanket, a scarf and caps), he said.

Systems owned by Adelphia Communications Corp., AT & T Broadband, Cablevision Systems Corp., Charter Communications Inc., Cox Communications Inc. and Time Warner Cable were among the participating affiliates, Burns said.

Those systems developed various local public-relations and local ad-sales efforts linked to the promotion, he said. Last year there was no formal affiliate effort, only "guerrilla-style marketing" in a handful of markets, Cosgrove noted.

Plans for Christmas 2001 are already percolating, Cosgrove said.

Next year's holiday promotion may involve a national sponsorship, similar to the role Kraft Foods' Post Cereals division played in the Halloween stunt.

Burns would also like to determine how to carry the promotion's momentum into the week between Christmas and New Year's Day, he said.