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Rescue Tour Nets Ops $2.4M In Ad Sales

The Animal Planet Expo, a 10-market tour involving the network's 80-foot rescue vehicle, has thus far rolled up $2.4 million in local ad revenue for participating cable affiliates.

That total — derived from the seven affiliates that sold local advertising linked to the mobile tour — was up 600 percent from last year, when five of the 10 participating systems sold spots to local advertisers, Discovery Networks U.S. director of local ad sales Mike Van Bergen said last Wednesday. This year's traveling exhibit began its excursion in June.

The strongest supporting categories for the affiliate Expos have included automotive, photographic equipment retailers, fast food, pet-food stores and computers, said Van Bergen.

"We try to make the Expo as turnkey as possible for affiliates," Van Bergen said.

Operators receive a taggable Expo promotion spot, signs for on site and an ad-sales tent at which local clients can offer samples of their products to attendees. Animal Planet foots all the costs for these materials, he said.

About 100,000 visitors toured the Expo's interactive exhibits in the nine markets it visited through September, said Discovery Networks director of event marketing for affiliate sales and marketing Bob Storin.

The 10th stop was slated for Tampa and St. Petersburg, Fla., Oct. 5 through Oct. 6. But that could change, as the state-of-the-art Animal Planet Rescue vehicle is "on red alert for Hurricane Lili," Storin said.

Even if the disaster-relief vehicle cannot visit that market — where Time Warner Cable is the affiliate partner — a second vehicle, which opens to become an interactive-theater exhibit, will be on hand, he said.

The Animal Planet Expo allows operators to generate ad-sales revenue and to use its exhibit area to market digital-cable and cable-modem services, executives said. It also helps affiliates garner community goodwill, they noted.

Animal Planet has already decided to continue the Expo tour in 2003, when Storin said there will again be "at least 10 markets."

One aspect that's already been decided: "We're definitely bringing back the dedicated ad-sales tent," said Van Bergen.

Last year, Charter Communications Inc. in St. Louis garnered the most from the Expo — $110,000. This year, one affiliate, which asked not to be identified, booked $750,000 in orders from just two local sponsors.

The rescue vehicle soon will make its way to primetime. On Oct. 15, Animal Planet will air Wildfire Rescue, an hour-long documentary on the rescue work that saved 600 animals from Arizona's Rodeo and Chedski fires last June. Those efforts were made in conjunction with the American Humane Association.

Wildfire Rescue, shot in high-definition format, will also air on Discovery's HD Theater service. The air date has not yet been decided.

About 1,000 animals were saved in six previous disaster areas where the truck was deployed since 1998, the network said.