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Jerry-rigged promotions

Irent videos in the upfront marketplace: $100 for 50 titles. Yet I only pay a buck apiece, because I only rent on Tuesdays when the store offers two-for-one. I'm watching (and re-watching) political films lately, because my grandfather managed political campaigns in New York during the 1920s.

During at least one campaign, his job was to keep frugal tabs on the price of distributing his candidate's film to theaters. But I got cheap 50 years later in the 1970s when I started buying television time for a leading packaged-goods company.

My job to spend the least amount of my client's money to reach the entire demographically targeted audience with notions of our brands remained the same when I later worked at ad agencies.

And that was what I was thinking one Tuesday when I rented Saint Joan
and The Matchmaker, the latter starring Janeane Garofalo.
The thought came to mind because, as a buyer, I was trained to see these titles as inconsistent, attracting demographically inconsistent audiences. Yet the clerk didn't visibly signal that she found my choices to be odd.

A current release made in color, The Matchmaker
mocked one U.S. senator's effort to keep a campaign promise. Preminger's decades-old Saint Joan, however,
recounted the serious politics of heresy, in black and white.

Through the eyes of today's television buyers, therefore, these are separately themed films. Their audiences don't "cross over." But there's one consistency to the titles that overrides any political aspect of these movies: Both films feature sexy stars!

So who is questioning these types of home-viewing double-bills? The movie studios themselves. They point to creative synergies and demographic consistencies between the TV shows they need to buy and the movies they are releasing to make the best promotion platforms. They offer evidence, often vociferously, to the extent that Americans who watch Comedy Central don't watch The History Channel.

But that's not what Nielsen's ratings say at all.

During its day, Saint Joan's release set a precedent for hype. My interest in
The Matchmaker's hype, however, was piqued when I noticed how much time its studio, Gramercy Pictures, bought for Ms. Garofalo on reruns of Seinfeld. Seinfeld's syndication remains a primary platform for all new releases, and all of Seinfeld's sponsors pay top price to reach their target audience.

Movie companies buy time on Seinfeld
as if it is the only way to put wind into their sales. However, despite its having been (and continuing to be) atop the ratings of television's spectrum of choices during these time periods, neither Seinfeld
nor any show that the movie studios use to tout their new releases gets a large enough rating to help them quickly, if at all. Seinfeld
delivered an admittedly otherwise-hard-to-buy adult 25-34 rating of 6.0. But this rating means only that, on average, among America's 38.6 million adult 25-34 viewers, 36.3 million, or 94% of them, weren't hearing Ms. Garofalo's hype.

Statistically speaking, while these spots were airing, more of "her audience" either were watching something else or had their sets turned off. The viewing mass of these two groups, therefore, represents America's real movie-going target audience.

As television has grown from a three-channel to a multichannel medium, its "hits" draw fewer viewers. The shows that movie companies buy in order to call attention to each new release have become too low-rated to effectively reach but a small percentage of any target over an extended period of time, let alone all of them prior to any opening weekend.

Since America's television usage remains at levels stable with when there were only a handful of choices available, cable's new channels haven't increased the amount of our TV usage, on average. But it has
shifted us away from a one-time ABC/CBS/NBC monopoly. Since more of the adult 25-34 movie-going audience is watching something on cable during Seinfeld, it doesn't really matter whether they're tuned to Comedy Central, The History Channel, BET or CMT.

Instead, what is
important to reaching the movie-going TV audiences quickly and economically is that every month, Nielsen reports, virtually 80% of Americans regularly exercise television options unavailable prior to cable and that number will grow as newer technologies are introduced.

Since moviegoers aren't chained to any channel in particular, studios, over any week, can reach more of Seinfeld's so-called audience by spending less money on Seinfeld
and re-spending it on the lower-rated shows that are airing at the same time as Seinfeld.

By capitalizing on this new paradigm instead of being program-selective, studios could consistently advertise their releases less expensively and reach more targeted viewers. At that point, they could either save money or buy more audience. Because, despite all the money that was put on Seinfeld, The Matchmaker
didn't sell enough tickets to keep it in release.