It’s not enough to target segments of a population anymore – that notion is old news. Broadcasters are now taking things to the micro level to chase the supreme niche: the individual. And the techniques they’re using aren’t necessarily big budget or high-tech. Be it via direct mail, the Internet or face-to-face interaction, broadcasters are trying to establish one-on-one relationships with audiences. Starting and maintaining a dialog where they can gather viewers’ opinions on media use, hosts and programming – often with a few simple key strokes – is critical, because when it comes to connecting with audiences, this two-way relationship can become the ultimate focus group.
As Mike Morris, deputy MD at London-based Channel 4 International, has discovered, it can also translate into cash. The one-on-one feedback loop is a concept with which he has had to become intimate considering the upcoming changes in the UK’s TV landscape: the switch off of the analog TV signal begins in 2008, and the region will be entirely digital by 2012. ‘As traditional terrestrial broadcasters lose ownership of their audience to the platform providers – whether that be Sky or a cable, mobile or Internet service supplier – it’s really important that between now and 2012 we forge as many direct links as we possibly can with viewers,’ says Morris. In order to thrive amongst this influx in platforms, creating connections with audience members is essential, and C4 Rights and Consumer Products has been exploring direct mail options to do so.
Morris explains that C4 began its direct mail trial a year ago in an attempt to find a route to market for its large stash of ‘lower-profile factual programming.’ C4 is currently promoting 10 history, science and lifestyle titles via 4Direct, a quarterly catalog sent to 100,000 homes in the UK as well as an insert delivered in over one million copies of The Sunday Times newspaper. This initiative is a joint venture with London-based direct mail marketing company DD Video, which provides a list of people who’ve bought non-fiction DVDs from them in the past. Morris says DD Video actively manages the list, with new recruits added through advertising and list buying. The direct mail experiment generated sales of 120,000 units in 2005.
Morris predicts this business will generate yearly profits of £1 million (US$1.72 million) within five years, but adds that it won’t be a main financial driver for C4 over the next decade. ‘It’s a good service for our viewers and it’s profitable, but there’s a fundamental strategic reason for us doing it, which is that we can get a direct relationship with our viewers,’ maintains Morris. He adds that a residential magazine aptly called 4Homes (and a subsequent consumer event ‘with a C4 twist’) will be launching in 2006 to develop more direct links with the audience.
But direct mail campaigns can get pricey, observes Artie Scheff, senior VP of marketing for A&E. ‘Direct mail is very tough to do at a price point that’s palatable, and that’s why so many have moved online,’ he speculates.
Scheff is enthused about the A&E Club, which launched two years ago and is now roughly 80,000 members strong, with 75% to 80% of members in the 18- to 49-year-old range. It’s a free online club viewers can join via the main A&E website after providing personal info, such as name and email address. (More in-depth information is gathered through surveys as viewers get more involved in the club.) The reward is catered attention from the net. For example, members who replied to an online survey that asked ‘Do you watch Dog The Bounty Hunter?’ with ‘I wouldn’t miss an episode’ were mailed an autographed photo of Dog and his wife – without being told there would be a premium.
This summer, Scheff says A&E will begin to segment its club list into specific ‘buckets’ of people, which are groups with similar interests, be it towards a specific show or person. ‘You can literally come up with any bucket you want by asking the database to cross check ‘Entertainment Weekly subscribers’ with ‘Dog The Bounty Hunter,’ and ‘all female,” he says. Scheff hypothesizes that surveys could then be sent to the resulting members so that if Dog were on tour, A&E could offer discounted tickets and a meet-and-greet for club members.
The club also helps foster a chummy relationship with viewers. Once a member provides their address, approximate age, marital status as well as magazine and programming interests, A&E can send them personalized letters that may help bolster ratings. ‘I could send a letter than says ‘Dear So-and-So, I notice you’re a very big fan of Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen, and if you notice on the cover of People magazine this week – which you also receive – we have a special biography on them on Friday,” says Scheff. At that point, viewers could be directed to the online club, where they’d receive a free preview clip of the show, which they may then recommend their friends watch.
But the club is about more than word-of-mouth marketing: members have also provided input into trial programs. ‘We can send them a clip from a pilot of a new show and ask them to evaluate it,’ says Scheff. So far, clips of two pilots have been delivered to the mass A&E Club list, and one of the programs didn’t make it on air. ‘Our online community basically killed the show,’ he says. ‘And that’s a good thing.’
Travel north, and Toronto-based Chum Television also uses its strong online presence to get one-on-one with viewers. The MuchMusic website draws 600,000 to 800,000 unique visitors each month and is the biggest content download site in Canada. The MuchMusic.com demo is consistent with Much’s TV demo: 13- to 34-year-olds, with a core of 15- to 24-year-old users. Launched in 1995, the site offers an email newsletter sign-up option that has created a database of 30,000 names, a portion of which now comprise an online panel, TouchMuch.
This panel, made up of roughly 2,600 people, started in June and is a valuable resource for communicating with viewers. Chum Television director of marketing Susan Arthur says panelists have been asked what they think of a specific program or tour, as well as for consumption info, such as how they use their mobile phones. When asked ‘What do you want to win when you enter MuchMusic contests?,’ TouchMuch members said they coveted cash, travel, music and concert tickets, which Arthur says reinforced the channel’s existing prizing strategy.
In order to balance the TouchMuch panel with MuchMusic’s viewership, everyone in Much’s newsletter database received a profiling questionnaire in the Spring that gathered gender, age and geographic information. The majority of respondents were teenaged girls, so in an attempt to even out the male-to-female ratio, Arthur says ‘we went on air and said ‘Guess what? We need guys to join TouchMuch because the girls are kicking your butts.” In less than two weeks, she says the panel was balanced almost equally among the sexes, with percentages of the age groups in the panel representing the age range of station viewers.
Of the surveys delivered to date, Arthur boasts ‘every survey we’ve put out has come back completed.’ She notes that if a member ‘goes off to university and gets a different email address, or has exams or a part-time job,’ someone on a waiting list from the same demo can replace them. ‘We’re assuming that that will happen,’ says Arthur. ‘That’s the nature of a maturing audience on the move.’
At least twice a month, results of the surveys are provided to TouchMuch members ‘so they know they’re being listened to,’ says Arthur.
National Geographic Channels International also uses an online club to connect with its audience on a personal level. ‘The main goal is for viewers to have a relationship with the brand that’s active, so they feel like they’re part of it,’ says Guy Slattery, NGCI senior VP of creative and marketing. Starting in early 2002, NGCI has rolled out viewers clubs in Australia, the uk, Japan and Taiwan, and there are plans to expand in other regions. Slattery says feedback rates are high: ‘When we send members an email, we get about a 10% response rate, and that’s much better than your usual direct mail response rate.’
Club members have been treated to in-person visits from producers of ngci shows. For example, members of Australia’s viewer club obtained free tickets to hear a producer from the King Tut’s Curse special speak in Sydney and Auckland last May during Pharaohs Week.
‘Once someone has been to an event, it inspires loyalty and people will come back to us,’ says Slattery. ‘It’s an affinity for the brand.’ And it’s this type of rapport that broadcasters strive towards, one step – and person – at a time.