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Live Events, Award Shows Trigger Affiliate Ad Sales

Year after year, network/affiliate promotions linked either to live network programming or local events tend to be the strongest engines powering local advertising sales.

On the programming side, those lures range from National Football League games on ESPN to MTV: Music Television's Video Music Awards
and Nickelodeon's Kids' Choice Awards.

And the local attractions can include visits by the big trucks from ESPN, CMT: Country Music Television or Animal Planet, as well as touring stage productions from Cartoon Network or a Comedy Central-sponsored stand-up comedy competition.

AT&T Media Services senior vice president Judi Heady singled out MTV's VMAs
and ESPN's National Football League telecasts as consistently among that MSO's major sales generators.

Sales executives at other major MSOs, such as Cox Communications Inc., Comcast Corp. and Charter Communications Inc., also cited promo tie-ins — many of which are tied to local events or live programs — as an important local revenue-driver.

Four live primetime award specials from programmers within the MTV Networks family have put a combined $12 million into operators' and interconnects' coffers so far this year, said network officials.

Of those, the VMAs remained the top draw in ad-revenue terms, garnering more than $4 million, MTVN vice president of affiliate ad sales Jason Malamud said. But the MTV Movie Awards
notched the strongest growth: It gained 61 percent to nearly $3 million.

Award Show Rewards

MTVN's other biggest producers this year were two other live specials, Nick's Kids' Choice Awards, which leaped 30 percent to $2.6 million, and VH1's Divas Live, up 50 percent to $2.4 million, he added.

There are several reasons why live events — and specifically awards shows — perform well above average in terms of sparking local sales.

"Award shows provide an anchor for networks, and they're defining nights for networks and their brands, as well as for local sales campaigns," Malamud said.

These events are cable's equivalent of the broadcast networks' Super Bowl and post-season Major League Baseball games, he said.

And the more established promotional link-ups tend to perform the best. That's because they're proven attractions that are pre-sold to consumers, clients and affiliates, Malamud said.

The value of awards specials and in-market truck tours extend well beyond their live nature, said Comcast senior director of marketing and promotions Kellie Grutko. The VMAs
and Kids' Choice Awards
also are "very well-branded events" that are now quite familiar to consumers, she said.

In addition, these on- and off-channel programs typically include sweepstakes and other contests that tend to appeal most to younger audiences, Malamud noted. Whether they're youngsters interested in the Kids' Choice Awards
or teens and young adults enthused about the VMAs
and Divas Live
, he said, "Younger audiences are more responsive to calls to action."

Such tie-in sweepstakes usually offer trips to the events as a grand prize. In that vein, VH1 has added an "Ultimate Tailgate Sweepstakes" and trip prize to its
My VH1 Music Awards
special, due Dec. 2.

Aiming at preschoolers and their parents, this year's "Blue's Clues
Walkabout" tour enabled Time Warner Cable in Columbus, Ohio, to sell time to a small shopping center, Malamud added. On tap for 2002: live-tour opportunities from Nickelodeon, including a "Blue's Clues
Birthday Party" tour and a Rocket Power
arena tour aimed at tweens.

Trucks on Tour

CMT now has six big trucks traversing the U.S. The rigs are on pace to hit 1,000 local events by year's end, with local sales "on pace to exceed $2 million," Malamud projected.

AT&T Media Services officials in Chicago are among those enthused about the various CMT truck stops.

Discovery Networks U.S., meanwhile, has two Animal Planet events in the field, "Animal Planet Rescue Expo" and "ZooVenture." It's also plotted Travel Channel's "World Tour" to assist affiliates' local-sales push.

Collectively, the tours have generated some $1 million thus far, said Discovery director of local ad sales Mike Van Bergen.

Animal Planet Rescue Expo has amassed about $500,000 for the first six stops on the 10-market tour. Charter Media of St. Louis alone collected $110,000 in incremental revenues from several clients in late September, Van Bergen noted.

Adelphia Communications Corp.'s Buffalo, N.Y., system and Cox in Las Vegas have also used that truck visit to drive business.

World Tour, a 16-market mall caravan, brought AT&T Broadband in Chicago $85,000, while Comcast nabbed $40,000 in Atlantic City, N.J., he added. The tour's attractions include a virtual walk around the world and a digital photo booth.

ZooVenture, a live version of the network's game show, has generated $200,000 in its travels to date, including $35,000 from several clients sold by Cable One Inc. in Prescott, Arizona.

Cox has been working with Discovery Networks on the customized "Discovery Kids on Camera" promotion for its systems.

The MSO's Orange County, Calif., system booked Ruby's Diner as one of its sponsors for an audition held last August. That promotion — which amassed $1.5 million for Cox last year — has already topped the $1 million mark this year, according to Van Bergen.

For its part, ESPN has signed 450 affiliates to participate in its "Tailgate with the Truck," a promo tour linking the 73-foot ESPN: the Truck with its Sunday Night Football

ESPN executives estimated that its NFL coverage generates $167 million in ad sales per year for its affiliates, along with an additional $58 million by serving as "the cornerstone" of systems' multi-network packages.

A sweepstakes offered a trip to the Dec. 2 San Francisco 49ers-Buffalo Bills game in San Francisco as its grand prize, said ESPN vice president of affiliate ad sales Jeff Siegel.

The Golf Channel has its own vehicle, the "Drive, Chip & Putt" bus, used to promote its junior golf-skills competition. Due to visit 100 cities in this its third year (up from 60 in 2000), the bus will drive local sales for tie-in affiliates, like Time Warner Cable in Tampa, Fla., which booked a $108,000 order from the Publix supermarket chain and $60,000 from a Mercedes-Benz dealership, said Golf regional vice president of new accounts Chuck Conner.

Comedic Contributions

Cartoon Network, Comedy Central and Lifetime Television have also come up with their own variations on the live theme.

Cartoon recently began touring with Scooby-Doo in Stagefright, a live stage production whose appearances in 26 markets are supported by a sweepstakes. The tour began in October and runs through May.

For two years, Adlink has had considerable success with the live "Laugh Riots" stand-up comedy competition, held in association with Comedy Central. This fall — even though some events were rescheduled after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks — the promotion again generated about $4 million in ad sales for the Los Angeles interconnect.

For the first time last year, Lifetime aired a live, all-star concert special —Women Rock! Girls & Guitars
— in conjunction with its monthlong annual breast-cancer awareness campaign — and as a means to spark interested in a related sweepstakes component.