Operators Turn to Custom Campaigns

When Time Warner Cable Advertising Sales wanted to make inroads in the home-improvement category, it didn't have to look far for a promotion customized to fit its needs. Discovery Networks created a "TLC Time To Come Clean Sweepstakes," complete with a grand prize, a prize for each of the eight regions in which Time Warner sells local spots, and prizes for each local system.

Discovery Networks wasn't the only programmer crafting made-to-fit deals with Time Warner. MTV Networks designed a promotion around CMT's popular performance show, Crossroads, while Food Network cooked up a "Grill All Day With Bobby Flay" contest held in 22 Time Warner DMAs. The latter awarded a barbecue hosted by the celebrity chef for the winner and 50 friends, plus $10,000. "It really was a classy event," said Nancy Nalven, director of creative services and marketing for Time Warner Cable Advertising.

Welcome to the growing world of exclusive local cable promotions. Gone are the days when cable networks dreamed up a single "evergreen" promotion and tacked on a few local components for participating operators. Today, MSOs work with cable networks to create individual, standalone promotions, many of which, as in the Time Warner case, begin at the MSO's request.

This year, Adelphia crafted a promotion with help from ABC Family, A&E and MTV2, while Comcast developed Simply Balanced, a yearlong "wellness" campaign designed to woo health-care companies. In 2004, Comcast plans a "Home In On It" promotion that will include four national networks—two of them, Discovery and Scripps, have already signed up.

"Ownership" is the biggest trend in local ad sales promotions for MSOs, and it has caught the attention of advertisers. In fact, National Cable Communications agreed to let a single spot advertiser, Tony Roma's restaurants, become the sole regional sponsor for ESPN's 2003 coverage of The Home Run Derby
while Rhodes Furniture took ownership of the Travel Channel's "Beach Week."

NCC has seen a 20% increase in customized promotion requests during the past 12 months, said Lori Greenwood, the company's director of sales promotion. "Clients want something they can sink their teeth into."

With certain regional clients enjoying a footprint that crosses over multiple MSOs, NCC can provide market range and exclusivity at the same time. By the end of 2003, NCC will have offered advertisers more than 80 promotions, up "significantly" from 2002, Greenwood said.

"Everyone wants something that's not coming out of a can," said Todd Schoen, senior vice president of affiliate marketing and local sales at ABC Cable Networks Group. "Our 'Learning Together' programs this summer offered cable ops a chance to partner with our brands for pro-social efforts."

Toon Disney, for example, created a summer reading and rewards program for Comcast systems in Denver and Pittsburgh and Cox systems in Northern Virginia. SOAPnet partnered with Time Warner in Los Angeles to create a community forum designed to encourage parent-teen communication. Although Time Warner didn't sell sponsorships for its "Talk It Over Soaps" event, Adelphia in Burlington, Vt., did.

ABC Cable Networks Group's "pro-social" efforts underscore a second major trend: not only to "do good" but also to "sell well." Advocacy campaigns, such as Lifetime's "Stop Breast Cancer for Life" or Court TV's "Mobile Investigation Unit" national tour, continue to win advertisers interested in associating themselves with a cause.

According to Tracy Barrett, vice president of affiliate advertising sales and distribution at Lifetime, local advertising support to fight breast cancer or stop domestic violence is coming not just from hospitals and health clinics but from furniture stores, banks, jewelry stores and car dealerships—any product category, that is, that wants to reach women.

"2004 will be the 10th anniversary of our 'Stop Breast Cancer' campaign, and we are planning more on-air elements [to support local advertising]," Barrett said, adding, "We work very specifically with each MSO, crafting [spots] that work for them."

Court TV's traveling Mobile Investigation Unit not only toured 23 cities this year to tout children's safety issues but did so with an exclusive partnership with Discover Financial Services and American Suzuki. And, when Mom and Dad brought the kids down to the mall to take the MIU Digital Mystery Tour and visit the kiosks housing the Kloos Family, they could also visit retailers who co-sponsor local events. In Louisville, Ky., for example, Insight Media sold the entire local tour sponsorship to Churchill Downs.

"The tour is a press machine," said Court TV Senior Vice President of Marketing Evan Shapiro. "Anytime you have children and safety, the local press wants to be involved." Last year, Court TV and KlassKids fingerprinted more than 25,000 children nationwide, working toward the goal of 100,000 in 2003, all part of the personal forensic profile created for each participating child.

"Far from being a sensitive issue," said Shapiro, "local advertisers see this as a great added-value attraction." In a more fun-loving vein, several of the kiosks also contain puzzle-solving tasks that weave in local clues involving local Discover and Suzuki dealerships.

"At the grassroots level, it's good to educate and entertain," said Court TV Vice President of Affiliate Sales and Marketing Tom Wolfe. "We are careful not to oversell or slap people over the head, but local advertisers are well aware that the average MIU visitor spends 45 minutes with us."

Of course, for Lifetime, there can be no "sweepstakes" or "prizes" in issue-oriented campaigns, "What works for local advertisers is tying into our brand," Barrett said. "Stop Breast Cancer for Life" is now in 300 markets reaching 68 million households. "Stop Violence Against Women" launches in February and will have taggable tune-ins and PSAs (in English and in Spanish) for local sponsorships. In-store materials include hotline cards, pamphlets and bookmarks. Because 2004 also is an election year, Lifetime will resurrect "Every Woman Counts" with taggable tune-ins, PSAs and in-store elements encouraging voting.

"Every year, we've seen increased success for our local affiliates with these campaigns," Barrett added. "And that means increased incremental revenues." In 2004, Barrett expects local ops to bring in additional dollars from political advertisers who want to speak to the Lifetime audience. And Lifetime Movie Networks will be out there, too, with a new name and new prizes for its "Go Hollywood" promotion.

"We're going to make the promotional window more flexible in order to accommodate the affiliate's and/or advertiser's promotional calendar, including adding more higher-value local prizing," Barrett said.

Why such an effort to expand network clout right down to the mom-and-pop stores on Main Street? Blame Wall Street.

"There's an increased visibility of MSO ad sales as a business," said Jason Malamud, vice president of affiliate sales, MTV Networks. "Wall Street is talking about [Comcast Advertising Sales President] Charlie Thurston. That kind of visibility puts increased pressure on local ad sales."

Helping to ease the tension next year will be promotions tied to, among other things, Comedy Central's Indecision 2004
coverage of the presidential race, and hundreds of hours of Summer Olympics action on Bravo, CNBC and Telemundo.

Advertisers spend $2 billion on local country music radio stations, Malamud noted. "These are prequalified advertisers whose dollars we want to move to cable." Along with a promotion tied to its annual "Fame Worthy Awards," CMT worked with Time Warner to develop its Crossroads

"We offered as a grand prize a round-trip ticket to a Nashville taping of Crossroads," he added. "And Time Warner was able to attract advertisers like East Chicago Pizza that ran promos at 80 locations."

"Customized and exclusive promotions have become an increasingly important way to create a competitive edge," Nalven observed. "Local broadcast just doesn't have access to Bobby Flay or CMT."

That is why TLC hopes to lure flooring stores, carpet warehouses and furniture storeowners to co-sponsor those eight San Diego spa trips. And why Comcast's "Simply Balanced" was a simply appealing way to reach doctors, hospitals and health clinics.

"Simply Balanced is the first promotion of its kind, designed to get networks to work together to create a strong Comcast-exclusive promotion," noted Vicki Lins, vice president of marketing and communications at Comcast Advertising Sales. The promotion includes vignettes in which on-air talent from participating cable networks deliver wellness tips. Each network gets four tips that can be used all year. Networks also can sponsor quarterly newsletters that Comcast provides for local advertisers to distribute in-store and quarterly online sweepstakes, for which the participating network provides prizes.

This year, ESPN, Outdoor Life Network and The Weather Channel co-sponsored the local wellness spots. In 2004, that number will expand, with Discovery/Discovery Health and USA/Sci Fi also participating.

The online component is a definite lure. "While Simply Balanced is targeted to local retail, regional advertisers also find it attractive due to the online and on-air components," Lins explained, noting that Comcast expects to generate $2.5 million in additional revenue from promotions this year.

The online impact is the third major trend in promotions this year. MTV Networks will use an electronic ballot box so sweepstakes entries can be offered online. "This allows local advertisers a way for customers to enter our national contests," said Malamud, "and our affiliates find online an easier way to implement promotions. They don't have to worry about store locations or an expensive 800 number."

ABC Family's evergreen "25 Days of Christmas" sweepstakes has been enhanced by an online component that ties into specific local businesses, according to Schoen. "We did it last year but are now expanding it for those local advertisers who don't want to go the POP route."

Adding an online component opens the door to letting affiliates promote more than their advertising avails. "Our local prizing is different," he said. "Whereas, in the past, we offered $2,500 tied into local charities, this year, we're awarding subscribers TV sets with high-speed access. For our local affiliates, this is an incredible acquisition-and-retention tool."

According to Schoen, the 25 Days of Christmas promotion will reach more than 80 million subscribers this year, up from 70 million last year, another record.

In the past, the promotion generated more than $7 million for ABC Family local affiliates. This year, though, the revenue will be harder to decipher. Once again, blame Wall Street. "As local advertisers generate more and more revenue, fewer of them are willing to release the data to us," Schoen noted. "I've heard that sometimes [publishing] those high revenue figures can come back to bite them."