The Promotional Punch: So many new shows, only so many promotional dollars

The term 'fall season' may be a misnomer in American cable this year, as many channels launched new programming during the summer months instead, in an attempt to pry audience share away from broadcast networks mired in summer reruns. While the...
September 1, 1999

The term ‘fall season’ may be a misnomer in American cable this year, as many channels launched new programming during the summer months instead, in an attempt to pry audience share away from broadcast networks mired in summer reruns. While the battle for eyes has historically been viewed as a steel-cage death-match between cable and the networks, the focus now appears to be shifting to cable vs. cable.

As cable channels unleash a volume of new non-fiction programming, several are relying on their strongest established franchises to retain current viewership levels and to act as a springboard from which to promote the new series.

RealScreen surveyed key U.S. cable networks to find out which non-fiction programs they are putting their promotional muscle behind this fall, and how that may affect the rest of their schedules.


Program: Investigative Reports

Premiere Date: June 28 (as a Monday-Friday strip)

Description of show: One-hour documentary devoted to a different contemporary issue each night

Number of new episodes: Minimum of 100 new hours scheduled over the next year

Production company: Bill Kurtis Productions; various others including the BBC, BNN, New York-based Gabriel Films, Idaho-based Crisman Films and L.A-based Arnold Shapiro Productions

Target Demographic: Adults 25-54

Promotion Campaign: Begun in June and ongoing

Promotional Media Support: Print, radio, TV, cross-promotion on The History Channel

The scoop: How do you market trust? That’s the question A&E’s vice president of programming Michael Cascio ponders as the network attempts to turn its eight-year-old weekly journalism series into a branded weeknight franchise at 9 p.m.

The new strand is part of an overall A&E brand strategy to project itself as a contemporary and exciting channel that viewers need to watch on a nightly basis.

To evolve Investigative Reports into the umbrella title for a daily prime-time hour of single-subject contemporary journalism, a&e is mirroring a strategy that originally proved successful when it converted Biography into a weeknight strip – promoting one banner show, as opposed to five individual ones. ‘It’s easier in some ways to promote one name and one kind of show than five different kinds of shows,’ Cascio says.

Programs that had previously been featured in A&E’s Tuesday 9 p.m. slot have either been absorbed by Investigative Reports (L.A. Detectives and Inside Story) or moved to a new day and time (American Justice, Wednesdays at 10 p.m.; The Unexplained, Sundays at 2 p.m.).

Promoting a daily program dealing with serious issues poses a more difficult challenge than the more entertainment-slanted Biography. A&E will stack paid promotion for the series around special issue-oriented theme weeks, like `Guns In America,’ which kicked off the switch to a strip in June. Along with traditional print, radio and cable buys, A&E hopes to exploit the issue content of its program by offering host Bill Kurtis as an interview subject on talk radio shows nation-wide.

Cascio envisions the promotion of Investigative Reports to be more a marathon than a sprint, a trust gained by offering consistently solid journalism each night. ‘That’s how you have to develop franchises with journalistic content. You are trying to create a degree of expectation, integrity and trust,’ he says.

Animal Planet

Program Stunt: World Animal Day

Premiere Date: October 3-8

Description of Stunt: World Animal Day (October 3) kicks off Animal Planet’s fourth-quarter programming. Week-long stunt includes the world premiere specials The Natural World: The Right Whales (produced by the bbc) and Kindred Spirits (Survival Anglia), the debut of new series such as, K-9 to 5 (Minnesota-based Tremendous Productions), O’Shea’s Big Adventure (U.K.-based Yorkshire Television and Toronto-based Associated Producers), Zig & Zag (Florida-based It Works Productions) and new episodes of returning series. Kelsey Grammer hosts informational interstitial segments about cetaceans (whales and dolphins)

Target Demographic: Children 2-11; families 18-49, slightly skewing female

Production company: July through October

Promotional Media Support: Spot TV (cable, syndicated, broadcast), national radio and print (i.e. People magazine)

Fish story: Animal Planet has planned a whale of a week to introduce viewers to its fall lineup. It is using World Animal Day, October 3, as the impetus for a week-long roll-out of new programming, interspersed with information about cetaceans. ‘This is a way for Animal Planet to demonstrate its mission about the connection between people and animals,’ says Clark Bunting, senior vice president and general manager, Animal Planet. ‘We’re not just a network that shows a series of unrelated documentaries. There is an editorial spine behind all of this that weaves together in a way that people will find entertaining, educational and fun.’

Available in over 50.7 million homes, the channel’s promotional efforts now focus on viewer retention as opposed to viewer sampling, in an attempt to become not just an accidental channel-surfing stop, but part of the cluster of networks that a viewer watches nightly. This is reflected in its campaign for World Animal Day, its first full-fledged coordinated national advertising campaign, employing TV, radio and print. Previous campaigns had targeted specific markets only.

Animal Planet has a dozen new series debuting in the fall, most of which will premiere during the stunt. ‘While we have marketing dollars and while we’re trying to bring people to Animal Planet, we want to show our best and new programming, and convince viewers that this is an interesting place where they should want to spend more time.’

This is the fourth year Animal Planet has run special programming stunts around World Animal Day. Editorially, the event is structured not to guilt viewers about the plight of endangered species (which often turns viewers away), but to shed light on positive initiatives.


Program: Louis Theroux’s Weird Weekends

Premiere Date: October 1

Description of Show: The former The Awful Truth and TV Nation correspondent delves into strange subcultures of America

Target Demographic: 18-34

Program producer: BBC

Number of episodes: Nine

Promotion Campaign: September, a week prior to premiere

Promotional Media Support: Spot cable TV buys in top 25 markets; outdoor billboards and posters

Let’s get weird: Bravo is trying to skew younger and hipper on this show (as it has with the Michael Moore series The Awful Truth) to draw a younger audience than its standard 35+ demographic.

The channel is scheduling the series to kick off its weekend programming in October. The program will be followed by an independent film appealing to the same demo.

Promotion begins a week prior to the premiere and mirrors the method Bravo used for The Awful Truth. Unlike promotion for its other programming, which relies heavily on print advertising, `Weird Weekend’ will be promoted heavily with spot cable buys on channels like Comedy Central, mtv and Sci-Fi, and in outdoor advertising, to reach a younger target audience where its most likely to be found.

The success of `Weird Weekend’ could impact future non-fiction programming on the channel. ‘It’s a style of documentary programming that is underserved on television, and our indications are that Bravo’s viewers want more of them,’ says Caroline Bock, Bravo’s senior VP of marketing. Several non-fiction pilots that focus on unusual and real-life documentary storytelling are in the development stage.

The Discovery Channel

Program: In Search of Liberty Bell Seven

Premiere Date: December 12

Description of Show: A chronicle of the undersea search and recovery of the nasa spacecraft, lost on the bottom of the sea since 1961. The fifth installment of Discovery’s `Expedition Adventure’ initiative, which began in 1998

Target Demographic: 25-54

Program producer: New York-based Partisan Pictures

Promotion Campaign: November; teaser spots air throughout the fall

Promotional Media Support: TV, radio, outdoor and print; live Internet updates, news reportage of recovery operation

Blast-off: Discovery classifies its `Expedition Adventure’ programs as its highest profile specials because the channel funds the research and chronicles the results. ‘It’s a very tangible way of bringing our audience the true Discovery experience,’ says Mary Clare Baquet, director of advertising and promotions, Discovery Channel.

The news that the Mercury capsule was found made headlines earlier this year, but the ongoing job for Discovery is to make viewers aware that it initiated the expedition. It hopes to leverage the publicity it stands to gain from the pure newsworthiness of the recovery. However, media outlets may not feel compelled to mention that Discovery, a competitor, has funded the research.

Discovery is running what it calls ‘proof of performance’ spots on air, which are designed to illustrate its ownership of the event. The 30-second spots inform viewers that locating Liberty Bell 7 is the result of Discovery’s `Expedition Adventure’ initiative. Recovery efforts began off the coast of the Bahamas on July 1, 1999, and by July 20, the spacecraft had been located and lifted to the surface.

‘Consumers understand that we document these sorts of things, but what they don’t understand is that we’re out there making them happen,’ says Susan Campbell, director of advertising and promotions, Discovery Channel.

This is particularly important because the recovery was made mid-year, but the resulting documentary won’t air until December. Discovery is running teaser spots in the summer and fall, but it’s full consumer promotional thrust begins in November. (While the search was in progress, viewers were directed to its website,, for live updates. The info is still posted.) Paid promotion will include consumer magazines, radio, television and outdoor.

Although Discovery has advertising partners for its umbrella `Expedition Adventure’ series (Liberty Bell is the fifth in the series, which began in 1998), the channel doesn’t take on promotional partners to fund the research, wanting to take full ownership for the expeditions in order for people to associate these scientific adventures with the network.

Food Network

Program: Emeril Live

Premiere Date: July 5 (schedule change to 8pm, daily)

Description of Show: Energetic New Orleans chef Emeril Lagasse hosts an entertaining hour of cooking

Number of episodes: 86 new episodes per year

Target Demographic: 25-54

Promotion Campaign: ‘Emeril at Ate p.m.’ – begun in June and ongoing

Promotional Media Support: Spot cable, print, telemarketing/direct mail, outdoors, in-store (grocery stores)

Recipe for success: Emeril Live is at the center of Food Network’s effort to change its image as a recipe channel to one that appeals to everybody’s tastes, literally. As new programs shift emphasis to storytelling about food and the people behind it, Food’s marketing strategy is to make sure viewers understand that you don’t have to be a highbrow foody to enjoy the programming.

The channel is banking on Emeril Live (and the entertaining personality of the show’s host, in particular) to drive eyeballs to new and continuing series (also launched the week of July 5), including Extreme Cuisine (produced by New York-based Atlas Media) and Iron Chef (produced by Fuji TV Annex in Japan). Extreme Cuisine looks at bizarre and unusual foods, while Iron Chef features Japanese chefs competing to make entrees – think cooking show meets American Gladiators.

Aside from traditional print, outdoor and TV buys, Food Network conducted an Emeril Live promotional campaign in grocery stores featuring billboards placed above check-out counters. Another component was targeted outbound telemarketing, direct mail and e-mail campaign, contacting viewers who had been in communication with the network over the last 90 days via e-mail or telephone, who had sent in for recipes, or who had purchased items from the channel’s website. ‘Outbound telemarketing was the most targeted and highly effective because it was directed to the most loyal viewers,’ says Heidi Diamond, senior VP of marketing and business development, Food Network. ‘Because of the research coming back, it will help us as we continue to plan for new schedule changes.’

The channel is looking into additional guerrilla marketing tactics to get into the public eye. In January, it teamed with People for a 14-page advertorial about Super Bowl party food. People sold sponsorship space within the insert to advertisers, while Food got exposure for its January programming stunt, `Super Food Fest.’ Diamond says the channel continues to seek similar activities.

The History Channel

Program: History’s Mysteries (formerly In Search of History)

Premiere Date: August 2 (Monday-Friday strip)

Description of Show: A one-hour documentary investigating myths, legends and little-known stories of the past

Number of episodes: Minimum of 50 new hours over the next year

Production company: Various, including L.A.-based MPH Entertainment and New York-based Pangolin Pictures

Target Demographic: Men 25-49

Promotion Campaign: July and ongoing

Promotional Media Support: Print, radio, cable, outdoor

Getting a Clue: In search of a new name to re-cast In Search of History (The History Channel’s weeknight 8 p.m. signature series of the last two years), the network has re-launched the program as History’s Mysteries. ‘As we change the focus of the show, the [new] name really says what the show is all about and is a clearer grasp for the viewer,’ says Abbe Raven, thc’s senior vp of programming.

Raven believes the addition of Arthur Kent as the series’ host injects youthfulness and a stamp of investigative journalism to the show, elements that weren’t consistently present on In Search of History. ‘What it does is it makes it clearer to our audience what they are looking for in terms of uncovering the mystery.’

The History’s Mysteries re-launch is part of an ongoing thc brand awareness campaign to present history in a more active light. Promotion and advertising surrounding History’s Mysteries emphasizes the ‘adventure’ and ‘journey’ of investigating secrets of the past, and ‘uncovering’ new information on subjects you thought you already knew – alleged parent-killer Lizzie Borden or the plot to overthrow former U.S. president Franklin D. Roosevelt, for example.

Fall launches, such as The Wrath of God (natural and man-made disasters) and History’s Lost and Found (a light-hearted look at historical mementos, famous and strange), both weekly one-hours, compliment the channel’s mission to encourage the perception of history as exciting, informational and entertaining, rather than dull. Chicago-based Towers Productions is producing Wrath, while New York-based Atlas Media is helming Lost and Found.

The Learning Channel

Programs: Paramedics; Trauma: Life in the ER

Premiere Date: Sept. 20 (Paramedics); Sept. 21 (Trauma)

Description of Shows: Two one-hour reality series that take viewers into real world emergency rooms and rescue operations

Number of episodes: 13 new episodes each

Target Demographic: 18-54

Program producer: New York Times Television

Promotion Campaign: Fall

Promotional Media Support: Spot cable, radio and print; local promotions in cities where episodes are filmed, such as press events and screenings

To the rescue: The Learning Channel is taking two of its most popular series and scheduling them on back-to-back nights at the beginning of the broadcast week to help promote the rest of its lineup.

Paramedics, in its second full season, moves from Friday to Monday nights. Trauma, tlc’s highest rated series, remains on Tuesdays. The shows are part of TLC’s branded 8 p.m. block, `Adrenaline Rush Hour,’ created in April 1998 to promote (to viewers and advertisers) a group of weekly series that share edge-of-your-seat real-life thrills under one theme.

While tlc will continue to promote the branded `Adrenaline Rush Hour’ block in outdoor advertising, it will emphasize Trauma and Paramedics in spot TV and print buys because specific episodes can be promoted on a day and date basis. These two programs draw the most diverse audience to the channel, including more younger and female viewers than TLC’s traditional 25-54 male demographic, according to Steven Cheskin, vice president, programming, tlc.

A new promotional campaign to run for the fall will include ads (likely for TV) featuring medical professionals (paramedics, nurses, etc.) who watch the series. tlc plans to do extensive promotion in local markets in which particular episodes are filmed (each week’s episode is shot in a different city).

TLC plans to use the popularity of these two series both as the mechanism to retain viewers each evening, and to promote the rest of the `Adrenaline Rush Hour’ lineup. tlc is vertically stacking its schedule this fall, airing similar-themed programs after each of its 8 p.m. lead-ins. For example, Paramedics is followed by Real Life, Real Heroes; Trauma by Science Frontiers. Other shows airing in the 8 p.m. block include Extreme Machines (Wednesdays), Savage Earth (Thursdays) and the new series, The Thrill of… (Fridays).


Bull Marketing

Bulls and bears are being joined by bats, bugs and birds on cnbc. But will the sharks on Wall Street want to watch programs about their counterparts in the ocean?

Top-rated U.S. financial cable channel cnbc thinks so, and has invested equal parts money and hope into National Geographic Explorer, which they anticipate will address a glaring weakness for cnbc – its weekend primetime lineup, according to CNBC VP of primetime Bob Richblum.

National Geographic Explorer moves from TBS to CNBC beginning Sunday September 5. The program will air at 8 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. Boyd Matson will continue to host.

Although CNBC’s programming is well regarded during business days, its weekend primetime has lacked a consistent drawing card. Richblum believes the program is an ideal match for its business audience. The types of adventures and explorations profiled on the series are similar to the types of exotic travel and thrills that CNBC’s upscale audience often participates in – day trading excluded.

Richblum said the acquisition of Explorer is unrelated to the business partnership that nbc has with National Geographic Television and Fox in regard to the international National Geographic Channel, but added that aggressive cross-promotion for Explorer takes place on NBC and MSNBC. EK

About The Author
Daniele Alcinii is a news reporter at realscreen, the leading international publisher of non-fiction film and television industry news and content. He joins the rs team with journalism experience following a stint out west with Sun Media in Edmonton's Capital Region, and communications work in Melbourne, Australia and Toronto. You can follow him on Twitter at @danielealcinii.