At USA, the Buzzword is 'Brandwidth'

USA is the top cable network in prime, and for two years, the network has been pitching that fact to advertisers in upfront season. But while success is enjoyable, it's just not always sexy. So for 2008, USA found itself in a quandary: What to pitch as an encore?

The solution: “brandwidth.”

The company will unveil its adoption of that term—a celebration of its successful media reach—at its New York upfront presentation to advertisers March 26. The word is meant to convey the deep meaning that the USA brand has in the minds of its viewers—one it can offer advertisers—says USA Network/Sci Fi Channel President Bonnie Hammer.

“Of course we want to keep the honor of being No. 1 and the hard work and glory of it, but the truth is what we want to be is the strongest media brand out there across all platforms,” Hammer says. “To say you're the No. 1 television channel or cabler in this world is not good enough and, frankly, not fun enough.”

USA will tell advertisers that it is “the most recognizable, relatable and welcoming brand in media,” and that the strong characters in its programming—from WWE grapplers to the offbeat men of Monk and Psych—create an emotional connection through participation, interaction and inclusion with viewers. The network will also stress that it “mirrors the community and enables viewers to see themselves reflected in our message.”

USA is not alone in its desire to market its brand rather than simply ratings. Media entities are struggling to stand out in an increasingly fractured environment. To maintain advertiser interest, networks are placing renewed interest in promoting attributes that brands can align with.

“Increasingly, due to the crowded and cluttered media environment, the networks themselves are the brands with programs as sub-brands,” says John Rash, senior VP, director of broadcast negotiations for Campbell Mithun.

Brandwidth is only the latest term tossed around this upfront season to catch advertisers' attention. AETN is pitching “blended entertainment,” integrating an advertiser's product with programming that matches its values; and USA sister channel Sci Fi last week pushed the concept of “4D,” developing programming for platforms beyond just TV and the Web.

Where USA does stand out is in its numbers, which back up the claims.

USA finished 2007 No. 1 in prime, averaging 1.23 million viewers 18-49, up 4% over last year, according to Nielsen. The network's Web traffic is also up: A “Character Arcade” casual gaming area featuring Monk and others drove 365% more traffic to the site since its launch last year, the network says. And proprietary research USA conducted showed viewers ranked it above all broadcast networks, as well as top cable competitors, on brand resonance statements about loyalty and community.

“We are so deep and so engaged with our viewers and users that we can offer the advertising world amazing engagement and interaction with a very, very loyal, dedicated fan base that spans beyond the television screen,” says Hammer.

Toward that end, USA will leverage its brandwidth to offer advertisers “character-approved” associations, such as product integration in programming, and custom vignettes. Last year, the network partnered with Windex on dreamscape spots in which Monk's Tony Shalhoub used the product to clean meters.

It worked similarly with Alltel on “the little adventures of Shawn and Gus,” spots that featured the wireless brand alongside the Psych characters as little kids. The ads delivered the show's highest C3 numbers ever and improved perception of Alltel's brand, according to IAG research.

USA is also seeing interest for marketing partnerships, like the one it had with Pond's this summer around the limited series Starter Wife, Hammer says. That show will return as a series, along with new show In Plain Sight and returning hits, including Monk and Psych.

While media buyers are notoriously resistant to jargon, some say USA's offers a respite from a season of endless ratings claims.

Says Horizon Media's research chief Brad Adgate, “Buyers are brow-beaten about who's No. 1 in the different demos, and growth stories, and after a while, they're shell-shocked. Everybody knows USA in prime is the most watched cable network and how successful their shows and sports are. It's refreshing to do it this way.”