Specialty networks breaking ground

Whether the specialty networks are selling programming such as the Biker Mice from Mars, the world championship motor-cross, coverage of the Tory leadership race or a leather-studded Alannah Myles, they have set the pace in finding new ways of grabbing viewers'...

Whether the specialty networks are selling programming such as the Biker Mice from Mars, the world championship motor-cross, coverage of the Tory leadership race or a leather-studded Alannah Myles, they have set the pace in finding new ways of grabbing viewers’ attention.

This fall, the specialty networks – such as ytv, MuchMusic, tsn and CBC Newsworld – are more tuned into cross-promotions and brand-building to get audiences sampling and making their networks a staple of the consumers’ television diet.

‘We’ve been a real ground-breaker in creating innovative promotions,’ says Rita Ferrari, affiliate marketing manager with ytv, the children’s network.

The specialty networks have looked at the success radio has had with promotions, forced-tuning and contests and built on it.

Now, Ferrari says the regular networks are learning from the specialty services.

David Kirkwood, marketing director of MuchMusic, the 24-hour music video network, agrees.

‘For us, there have been no rules to break, so we’ve been incredibly creative in coming up with new ways to reach viewers,’ Kirkwood says.

‘If there’s a change, it’s about getting more interactive with our audience,’ he says.

Getting MuchMusic’s more than six million viewers to tune in longer and more frequently is the new challenge, he says.

Kirkwood says promotions that touch on issues that affect their audience’s lives – the important 18-34 target group – may be the key to building brand loyalty.

New programming, such as the monthly The Real Deal – an issue-oriented program that tackles problems like racism, substance abuse, safe sex and employment – are being marketed with like-minded promotions.

For example, the service recently worked with the department of Multiculturalism and Citizenship and Benneton to create a promotion to help the ministry in its efforts to combat racism.

Viewers were asked to design an image for a T-shirt depicting ‘Your World Without Racism.’ Entry forms were available in Benneton stores, supported by point-of-sale advertising and 30-second spots on MuchMusic.

‘This was an empowering, interactive promotion concentrating on a social and political subject that is important to our viewers,’ Kirkwood says.

Similarly, this summer, MuchMusic launched the Temp contest.

With many youths facing unemployment, the give-me-a-summer job promotion was an acknowledgment that MuchMusic understands the issues facing the so-called Generation X, Kirkwood says.

The grand prize winner was awarded a two-month temporary work contract to ‘learn the ropes’ at the station.

Kirkwood says similar promotions are in the works for the fall to help encourage viewership.

A pay-my-rent and/or pay-my-tuition contest is likely to get under way because of the success and awareness created by the Temp promotion, he says

‘It’s all about giving our viewers access,’ Kirkwood says. ‘The more they can take part in us, the more they will become a part of us.’

Come September, MuchMusic will be hyping the Canadian Music Video Awards, the Speakers’ Corner on the Road, as well as Take Me to Your Leader and Vote with a Vengeance – two new programs that take the video network into politics.

‘The election campaign will figure in big in our fall promotional activities,’ Kirkwood says.

Of course, an important part of the fall advertising strategy will be to use the tried-and-true media to help discipline the wayward channel hoppers, he says.

tv listing books, radio and MuchMusic’s own on-air promotion will all be used to promote the network’s programming to viewers, he says.

This fall, ytv is also planning a media blitz using tv books, transit, on-air advertising and selected youth magazines to get the market watching.

Ferrari says new programs such as the Biker Mice From Mars, Garfield and Friends and Are You Afraid of the Dark?, are likely to be featured in the advertising line-up.

She says ytv is a broad narrowcaster, niche-marketing to three separate groups; pre-schoolers, children and pre-teens, and teenagers.

In September, ytv will be given a more distinctive look, differentiating day programming from evening programming.

Ferrari says the youth network will also continue to expand its interactive, ‘grass-roots’ approach to increasing audience numbers with more targetted cross-promotions and program specific promotions.

‘It allows the consumer to have a loyalty to the channel when they have a personal stake in it,’ she says.

For example, the network will continue with its Pizza Hut promotion this fall.

Called YTV Kids’ Night at Pizza Hut, the promotion allows children 12 and under to eat for free with the purchase of a medium or large pan pizza.

Ferrari says Pizza Hut displays featuring YTV Kids’ Night point-of-sale material including placemats, balloons and posters, creates tremendous awareness of the network.

Plans are now under way to introduce more interactive vehicles with the YTV Kids’ Night promotion, she says.

The network is also planning to expand its Kids’ Club, which has a membership of 18,000 children, to 45,000 next year.

Joining the club puts children on the official newsletter list, and gives them more opportunities for special offers and contests, according to Ferrari.

ytv will also a launch a major watch-and-win contest this fall as a way of getting viewers to tune in more regularly.

There will be more retail appearances of station celebrities, such as Monica Kim, Tarzan Dan, the pjs and the Grogs.

Ferrari says the station is also investigating the possibility of merchandising and licensing ytv characters to support the network’s image and increase awareness of ytv programs.

tsn is also using larger-than-life characters to help build its brand identity and attract new viewers.

The network’s Real Life. Real Drama. Real TV. multi-media campaign which has featured sports heros such as Juan Guzman and Thereon Fleury will continue this fall with some fine-tuning, says Jamie Tran, account supervisor for tsn at ad agency Ambrose Carr Linton Kelly.

‘The campaign touches a nerve,’ adds tsn vice-president of marketing, Jake Scudamore.

‘It doesn’t tell the listener or viewer what to think,’ Scudamore says. ‘It’s a product that doesn’t have canned laughter, expensive sets and wardrobes. It’s real.

‘Sports don’t have a script, they are honest and immediate,’ he says. ‘The campaign capitalizes on that.’

Support for programming will be widely distributed, Scudamore says.

Advertising will not only be directed at the news and information sports shows as well as the regular sports broadcasts, but to Canadian amateur sports and ksn, the new sports program for youth on Saturday and Sunday mornings.

Tran says there will be a greater effort to create immediacy working with the Real Life. Real Drama. Real TV. ads.

He says the ‘theatre of the mind’ radio spots, which tell compelling stories about sports greats – ‘They measured his height [Thereon Fleury,] and said he was too short. They measured his weight, and said he was too light. But one thing they never measured was the size of his heart’ – will be tagged with, ‘Catch the Calgary Flames at the Canucks tonight at 9 on tsn.’

Scudamore says not only will the radio campaign continue, but tv books, outdoor super-boards and a direct mail campaign to distribute schedules to viewers will all be used to generate awareness of tsn and its programming schedule.

Creating awareness and helping viewers to locate it in the 50-channel universe will be a priority for CBC Newsworld this fall, says Newsworld’s director of promotions, Julie Powers.

Partnering with other specialty channels is one way of raising awareness, Powers says.

That is why Newsworld recently teamed up with ytv to produce a cable stuffer which would help viewers locate the channel on their television.

The network typically uses its own on-air to advertise, as well as radio and tv listing books.

However, what will be new this fall, is that Newsworld will pursue more cross-promotions, says Newsworld head Michael Harris.

‘Cross-promotions are more difficult on a network like Newsworld,’ Harris says.

‘Quite frankly, our programming is not fun,’ he says. ‘It’s difficult to come out of live coverage of something like Oka with a contest.’

However, Harris says a cross-promotion with an airline will likely get under way this fall to help promote awareness of the network.

And there will be more cross-promotions with cbc radio.

‘Our demographics are similar, so it makes a lot of sense,’ Harris says.

He says promoting The National and the morning news, the latter of which has as its main competition, ctv’s Canada AM, will also be a priority this fall.

The network is riding high on recent gains.

Harris says Newsworld has managed to close the audience gap between it and cnn.

And he says acquiring The National after the launch of Prime Time News last fall has added to building consumer awareness.

‘It’s a jungle out there,’ Harris says. ‘Everybody’s watching, but the trick is to get them tuned in longer, and we’re working a lot harder to do just that this fall.’

Jamie Tran agrees.

The specialty networks have gained in credibility and audience numbers, he says.

But to build on current successes and confound the zappers will require a long-term strategy as well as short-term goals to drive audience numbers.

‘The only way to stand apart from the competition, and stop them from flicking as the multi-channel universe continues to expand, is by building your brand identity,’ Tran says.SB