Local TV Tries the Heart Sell

Big plans for Valentine's Day? If not, turn on the TV. Local stations, playing Cupid, are offering a bouquet of love-themed promotions and programming for Valentine's Day. The content ranges from a promo at Meredith's KVVU Las Vegas that sees a local jeweler give away $500 gift certificates every day from Feb. 1 to Feb. 14; to one lucky viewer on CBS-owned WKBD Detroit proposing during Gossip Girl; to a “Simpsons Love Byte” promo at Tribune's WSFL Miami that sees viewer-generated love notes crawl across the screen during the Feb. 14 airing of The Simpsons.

“It's a way to distinguish us in the marketplace,” says WSFL Director of Creative Services Mark Drury, who's also airing amour-themed Simpsons episodes all week. “You have to find ways to keep viewers entertained, and tying a theme to the holidays is one way of keeping things fresh.”

As Americans spend some $70 billion on weddings each year, according to bridal authority The Knot, it's no surprise that stations are eager to claim a chunk of the business. The “Weddings” section on the Website of Hearst-Argyle's WXII Greensboro, placed midway on the home page's nav bar, came to be a few years ago when President/General Manager Hank Price called the staff together, told them that traditional station jobs might not be around in the new economy, and urged them to brainstorm ideas for capturing slices of the increasingly fragmented viewing public. Staffer Judy Stone called every professional photographer in the Yellow Pages, and offered to post their photos and contact info on the station Website. WXII's Weddings microsite was born.

These days, sponsorships representing bakers, florists and dressmakers, among others, populate WXII12.com. According to a case study on the station from Northwestern University's Media Management Center, WXII's wedding section will generate around $50,000 this year. Price says the section reaches marketers that traditionally buy space in newspapers—and ones who don't advertise on television. “The sales department sells every bit of it,” he says. “And it comes at virtually no expense for us, as it's regular employees doing the work in their spare time.”

Whether they're hawking a Vera Wang gown or a weekend getaway, marketers appreciate that, unlike the broad reach of on-air programming, love and marriage-themed content delivers a highly targeted audience. WKBD hatched its “Primetime Proposal Contest” when the station's marketing staff brainstormed unique ways for a local tuxedo rental company and a riverboat cruise operator to promote their services. Both President Tuxedo and the Detroit Princess get prominent placement on the station site, with the winner getting free tuxedos for his groomsmen, along with a riverboat reception for 100.

WKBD's contest page asks entrants to “tell us how you met the woman of your dreams and why you should have the chance to propose on TV.” The call for entries ends this weekend, with the winner scheduled to air his proposal during a commercial break Feb. 25. WKBD Sales/Marketing Manager Heather Kuh says 25 males had applied as of last week—not all that bad, seeing as the about-to-propose crowd is what she calls “a little niche.”

More important, the sponsors are pleased with the buzz around the event. “They feel the hype has been a real positive,” says Kuh. “The feedback from their customers has been very good.”

Similarly, giveaways on the KVVU Las Vegas morning program More elicited paid sponsorships from hotels, chocolatiers and florists, among others. “They're really great sponsorships and they show the power of product integration,” says VP/General Manager Holly Steuart.

KVVU's Fox5Vegas.com site also features the “Vegas Wedding Bells Guide,” including video tips and a services directory. Showing that romance is indeed very much alive in Sin City, a wedding planner helps lovebirds hatch their dream nuptials—such as the $475 all-inclusive Elvis Wedding.

E-mail comments to michael.malone@reedbusiness.com

Michael Malone

Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy and New York magazine.