Tie-Ins Give Fox's Networks a Local Edge

The Fox Cable Networks stable, buoyed by strong tie-in elements built around its top programming, has registered substantial growth for local advertising sales by cable systems — sometimes in the double-digit range — over the last two years.

Its flagship network, FX, now boasts that 95% of its local inventory is being sold at the cable-system level, with advertisers drawn to such buzz-generating shows such as Nip/Tuck and Rescue Me. But other Fox Cable services have posted significant gains, too, according to Michael Cooper, vice president, affiliate marketing and ad sales for Fox Cable Networks.

The FSN regional sports networks, a big ratings draw among the coveted demographic of men 18 to 49, also now sells 95% of its local ad-sales inventory.

Meanwhile, Fox Sports en Español boasts an insertion rate of over 60%, having grown 42% over the last two years; while Speed Channel, which is available to 45 million cable homes, has a 76% insertion rate for its local avails, an increase of 22% over that span. Elsewhere, ad insertions have grown by 29% for National Geographic Channel.

Cooper attributes the ad-sales gains to the strength of the programming on the channels, and promotional support afforded its affiliate base by Fox Cable, behind such shows as FX's Nip/Tuck and the upcoming series Dirt and The Riches. Each network has high-profile promotions, most designed with the input of sales executives at its partner multiple-system operators.

Promotional design is “much more of a two-way street,” said Kellie Grustko, senior director of marketing for Comcast Spotlight. Gone are the days of the take-it-or-leave-it, time-locked promotional campaigns presented to local systems. Now, the best network ad-sales departments sit down with local system executives well in advance, and the thinking is much more strategic, Grustko said.

“They've realized that one size doesn't fit all,” she said, noting that network sales executives are more devoted to enhancing the local-sales experience — down to revising the support materials, if the local sales force indicates that a desired advertiser would prefer online elements to point-of-purchase collateral.

“There are so many ways to customize; the dialogue is much more open,” she said of support promotions.

Fox Cable's sales division has also developed tools to help local teams with strategy, such as an electronic pipeline report that enables salesmen to keep better tabs on the inventory they market, up to one year in advance. The company has also developed an online tool kit in support of National Geographic Channel, which allows affiliates to point and click on local promotional elements.

Cooper is also excited about video-on-demand tie-ins. Local content, linked to the network fare, is created for use on an operator's free VOD platform, with ads sold to support that local content. Cooper said that his company is in serious discussions with Charter Communications on deployment of such local programming.

The company is already soliciting support for key 2007 events. For instance, affiliates can sign up by Dec. 12 to participate in three individual FX promotions tied to its top originals, with operators committing to all three receiving bonus support.

Centerpiece packages involve such shows as Dirt, starring Courteney Cox, with a sweepstakes offering viewers an Los Angeles trip for a “celebrity lifestyle weekend,” and The Riches, with Eddie Izzard and Minnie Driver, supported by a sweepstakes for a prize package with an HDTV, home-theater system and a high-end laptop.

The third-quarter promotion for Nip/Tuck will offer local viewers a chance to fly to Miami to enjoy a spa package.