The battle for viewers escalates

Broadcasters will be channelling more energy than ever into the fall fight for their share of the fragmented and fickle television audience.Whether the battle is on the news front, or for primetime u.s. programming, Canadian shows or children's fare, networks and...

Broadcasters will be channelling more energy than ever into the fall fight for their share of the fragmented and fickle television audience.

Whether the battle is on the news front, or for primetime u.s. programming, Canadian shows or children’s fare, networks and stations are becoming more aggressive in the war over viewers.

In a few months, broadcasters will be given the chance to strut their stuff, trying to convince consumers in every way they know how, to tune into their network.

While most industry experts agree the use of traditional media – on-air promotions, tv listing books, radio and out of home media – is still the most critical factor in building audiences and creating program awareness, plans for cross-promotions and contests are flourishing like never before.

10-fold increase

‘The increase in the number of promotions at our station has increased 10-fold over the past two years,’ says the Global Television Network’s publicity and promotions director, David Hamilton.

‘It’s really, really competitive out there,’ says the network’s vice-president of communications, Nancy Smith.

‘The market is much more fragmented, and broadcasters are realizing they have to be more competitive and aggressive to get viewers watching,’ Smith says.

‘We’re responding to the environment by being more interactive with our viewership.’

Smith says watch-and-win contests, increasing reporters’ presence in the community and other promotional partnerships are all part of the network’s strategy this fall to convince consumers that Global’s Got It.

‘Promotions are a great way to get into the community and drive the audience to programming,’ Hamilton says.

Primetime u.s. programming is where the bulk of Global’s fall advertising budget is spent, according to Smith.

Although she is hesitant to reveal the details of the network’s strategy for this year, Smith says there will be ‘some interesting things happening around children’s programming.’

She says this year’s advertising and promotional approach is likely to build on trends established over the past few years.

Perhaps the most successful promotion last fall involved McDonald’s in a watch-and-win contest in which prizes were offered to viewers, Hamilton says.

A character with the Global logo appeared with a 1-800 number during various programs. During the contest, Global recorded 12 million attempted phone calls over a six-week period.

A listing of new and popular shows such as Bob, Seinfeld, Northern Exposure and L.A. Law with their scheduled times and days also appeared on the side of the McDonald’s soft-drink cup, helping to generate program awareness.

Partnerships

Large-scale promotional partnerships are becoming more frequent with many networks, Hamilton says, referring to a recent announcement by nbc.

The network recently signed a deal with cereal maker Kellogg.

The partnership features nbc stars such as Jerry Seinfeld and Jay Leno, of The Tonight Show, on the side of Kellogg’s cereals such as Corn Flakes and Special K. The promotion is combined with a watch-and-win contest.

Hamilton says Kellogg may be looking for a similar Canadian partnership, and ‘it may be worth our pursuing Kellogg’s to see what we might work out.’

Smith says the network will also be branding its u.s. programming with Global labels to remind viewers where they have seen the show.

For example, on-air promotions are imprinted with ‘Murder, She Wrote On Global.’

More contests

More contests and promotions are also being planned for the fall launch at the CTV Television Network, says senior vice-president of sales and marketing, Paul Robertson.

‘We were one of the first broadcasters to run contests, and we’ll be looking to do even more of it this year,’ Robertson says.

There is likely to be more of them because sponsors want to get involved on a regular basis, rather than just in big events, he says.

While Robertson admits the network has yet to work out its plans in full for the fall, contests will be designed based on past successes.

One of the most successful promotions to date involved a partnership with Kellogg cereals to promote family Christmas programming.

Children were asked to draw a picture of a scene from a Kellogg spot and send it in to the network, making them eligible to win prizes.

‘We were completely blown away by the response to it,’ says Robertson, referring to the 10,000 entries from children across the country. ‘It definitely got them watching.’

This fall, ctv will spend much of its effort promoting new primetime programming such as NYPD Blue and Sinbad, he says.

The network will also rely heavily on tv listing books and its own on-air to get people watching.

However, Robertson says, there is likely to be a major shift by next year, when ctv will move away from emphasizing the promotion of individual programs and will shift to building brand identity.

On the West Coast, Vancouver’s u.tv is using an interactive campaign to lure viewers and get them hooked on its news, weather and sportscasts.

bctv, the Vancouver ctv affiliate, still has the lion’s share of Vancouver news viewers. However, u.tv has quickly built up its news audience since shedding its more corporate image in 1990.

Local news programs such as U. News at Six, U. News 23:30 and U. Sports Page are less formal and are more frequently out on location.

‘A new, upbeat, in-your-face image is also reflected in the approach the station has taken to build its audience,’ says publicity and promotion manager Diane Johnson.

Build image

Johnson says maintaining a high level of community involvement has helped to build the station’s brand image.

For example, the U.TV Weather School, a travelling educational program to generate interest in the weather, has had a tremendous impact on creating awareness of the station among young people, according to Johnson.

The weatherman, Mark Driesschen, visits classrooms across the Lower Mainland getting students involved in learning about weather conditions. Students are then invited to help him forecast the weather on the U. News At Six.

Similarly, the U.TV sports team created a publicity stir and a great deal of interest in U. Sports Page when it announced it would give up shaving until the Vancouver Canucks were eliminated from the Stanley Cup Playoffs, Johnson says.

The fall launch will likely also be supported in tv listings, with bill-boards and on-air promotions, she says, with U.TV’s own on-air being the most important.

Edmonton’s itv has also fashioned itself as the young, leading-edge tv station of choice in its city with a target demographic of 18-49, according to the station’s vice-president of communications, Heather Grue.

This fall, it will be heavily promoting its primetime u.s. programming such as L.A. Law, The Simpsons, Married…with Children, Beverly Hills 90210 and Deep Space Nine, as well as new programming and the news.

Last spring, the station launched the 90-minute, ITV First News, the first live local morning news program in the Edmonton market.

Generating awareness of First News is likely to continue to be a priority this fall, building on the multimedia campaign used in the spring, according to Grue.

She says promotions are not new at itv. The station has relied upon them since the station’s early days to boost viewership.

‘Audience involvement and promotions are critical and we’ll see more and more television stations taking this route as a way of building loyalty.’

Grue says primetime comedy is likely to figure big in this year’s promotional activities based on last year’s success.

A major watch-and-win cross-promotion called the Sprite Comedy Club was launched last fall with partner Coca Cola.

It promoted tuning into itv comedy shows and offered up various merchandise and prizes, including an invitation to a comedy event hosted by Jerry Van Dyke of the Coach comedy show. It was supported by point-of-sale advertising in stores.

In Winnipeg, the seven-year-old Manitoba Television Network, chmi, has forged a more direct link to its viewers in order to build its audience numbers.

An automated telephone-line, called foneline (Find Out Nearly Everything), has helped to create a more interactive relationship between the station and its viewers, says mtn promotions manager Kevin Dunn.

Viewers can use the line to get updates on news, weather and sports and the primetime schedule.

‘The [Star Trek] Trekkies are good users of the line,’ Dunn says. ‘They really want to know which episode is going to be on tonigh.’

He says the telephone line is also heavily used on the second Tuesday of every month for the chooseday movie, in which viewers can call in and log in their choice of available movies.

‘Giving them a say in what they want to watch is a good way to foster station loyalty,’ Dunn says.

He says, this fall, the station will continue to heavily promote its movies, followed by news and its children’s programming through traditional on-air media and promotions.

In Montreal, cfcf is trying a different tactic this fall to attract new viewers.

John Murphy, the station’s manager of promotion and advertising, says in the competitive Quebec market, success for the ctv affiliate station will mean attracting more bilingual francophone viewers.

Murphy says cfcf will be branding itself with a new theme to reflect its repositioning this fall season.

‘We’re taking a look at the future,’ he says. ‘There is further fragmentation in the market with the influx of many new stations. We need a new theme that will carry us for several years to come.’

‘If you take a look at Canadian television stations, they’ve had their success in American programming. What’s happening now is that they are becoming more brand-conscious, recognizing the need to create ownership of our products.’

The cbc has also tried to carve out a clearly defined niche and brand-build with its ‘Go Public’ advertising campaign, according to Robert Pattillo, vice-president of communications for the CBC Network.

Pattillo says the ‘Go Public’ campaign, designed to reflect the corporation’s repositioning last fall, will continue this fall in an effort to promote cbc loyalty.

He says the ads, launched in the spring, try to more clearly define the cbc television network as Canada’s public broadcaster.

He says the ads – which have featured Canadian celebrities such as Al Waxman and Leonard Cohen endorsing cbc programming such as The Road to Avonlea, Prime Time News and Street Legal – will continue this fall in order to build audiences.

However, what is new this season, is an effort by cbc television to get involved in cross-promotions with cbc radio.

‘Because the target audiences are similar, it makes a great deal of sense,’ Pattillo says.

However, cross-promotions will not work with all programs.

Pattillo says it is probably more difficult to promote a show such as Street Legal on cbc radio than others.

He says programs such as Man Alive, The Nature of Things and Prime Time News match the cbc radio demographic well.

Cross-promotions between the two arms of the cbc are, in part, a response to the reality of shrinking advertising budgets.

‘The public broadcaster just does not have enough money to take a multimedia approach anymore,’ he says.

Smith agrees the new-found interest in joint partnerships is being driven by the marketplace, with a need for advertisers to justify every dollar spent.

But she says it is also a response to the fragmentation of audiences, and it is a trend that is likely to continue in the 500-channel universe.

And Smith says that although the fall launch still gets a major push, broadcasters are going to have to work harder at building audiences over the entire year.

‘Our attitude now is that we’re in this business 52 weeks out of the year,’ she says. ‘We’re going to be putting our emphasis on the long-term build rather than the short-term flash.’