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How NBCU Plans to Rock You This Fall

NBCUniversal Domestic Television Distribution and its syndication partners on 30 Rock are pulling out all the promotional stops for the comedy’s Sept. 19 off-network syndication launch, with the show’s cast and customizable clips playing central roles in the push.

Says one station executive who is airing the 30 Rock reruns: “If these shows don’t resonate with audiences, it won’t be because of a lack of effort on the part of the stations or syndicators.”

The campaign kicked off in early May, and the last message is a countdown spot, set to Queen’s “We Will Rock You,” that lets viewers know when to watch. The phases rolled out over fi ve months, says Donna Mills, senior VP of marketing, communications and affiliate relations for NBCUniversal Domestic Television Distribution.

The campaign started with highlight clips from 30 Rock featuring the show’s entire cast and then became more specific, introducing every character with original footage shot last spring with the main cast members. Somehow, most of Tracy Morgan’s spots involve him lifting his shirt for no good reason.

NBCU also provided stations with a custom content management system (CMS) from DG Entertainment that allows local promo managers to quickly and easily cut their own promos based on a keyword search. For example, if a promotions manager wants to create a promo around “pizza,” he or she just needs to enter the keyword into the system to come up with plenty of relevant clips.

When NBCU started looking for promoters to assist the syndicator with the show’s launch, it specifically asked them to provide a CMS that NBCU could then provide to stations.

DG Entertainment created the CMS more than 10 years ago, when Sony first sold Seinfeld into syndication.

“When Sony was launching Seinfeld, we were contracted to go through all 154 episodes and catalog them,” says Robbie Davis, DG Entertainment president and CEO. “We ended up with 11,000 clips, so we created a database of clips described in unique ways so that someone could go through and easily find clips when they were needed.”

Since then, the CMS has evolved with every show that DG has worked on; DG has created CMS databases for NBCU’s The Office as well as Warner Bros.’ Sex and the City, Friends and Looney Tunes, and more.

30 Rock is the newest CMS, and it has more features than any of its predecessors,” Davis says. “30 Rock is definitely the gold standard at this point.”

30 Rock will simultaneously premiere on Comedy Central, where it will air weeknights at 7 and 7:30 p.m. ET, and on Tribune’s WGN America. Both cable networks have crafted their own promo campaigns for the show.

Like NBCU, Comedy Central also had access to the cast, and its marketing staff wrote fresh promos for cast members Tina Fey, Alec Baldwin, Jane Krakowski, Jack McBrayer and Morgan.

“We certainly recognized that when you have a show with such incredible actors like this one, the best way to promote the show is by getting access to the cast,” says Walter Levitt, Comedy Central executive VP of marketing. “We all are already such fans of the show and its cast members that we very quickly got to ideas involving the cast. They are really the core of what makes the show hilarious.”

Note that Morgan also is called on to raise his shirt in Comedy Central’s promos.

WGN America is focusing much of its promotional efforts on a social media campaign that includes Facebook and Twitter.

“We are taking the point of view of being a fan ourselves, and creating a fan community,” says Josh Richman, WGN America VP of marketing.

Expectations for 30 Rock’s ratings performance range. “It’s hoped that it will be as successful as The Office was,” says Bill Carroll, VP of programming for Katz Television Group Programming.

Even that level of performance—and The Office is considered a mediocre performer in off-net syndication— will be tough for 30 Rock to reach. The show was sold to stations on an all-barter basis while the country was still deep in recession. Due to that, stations can’t afford to air the show in prime access time slots, one of their most lucrative advertising times. In most markets, 30 Rock will air in late fringe, which is less visible, less watched and less expensive.

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