How would you market the new digital television channels?

The 1,000-channel universe crept up on us in September when nearly 50 new digital television channels hit the airwaves. Unfortunately the launch was destined to be underwhelming since only 20% of Canadian homes have digital TV capabilities - and many of those were tuned to CNN throughout the month. A paltry 2% of homes tuned into the new diginets during the free introductory period and now that viewers have to pay for them, there's bound to be some casualties. Most diginets are relying on the marketing activities of the cable and satellite companies to secure subscribers although some are doing their own advertising. The Documentary Channel recently launched a new mixed-media campaign from Young & Rubicam Toronto with the theme line, 'Television that tells the truth'. John Farquhar, Y&R's president, says, 'The key is to develop a creative yet simple message that emphasizes what makes the channel stand out as unique.' There is great potential for targeted advertising with these digital niche networks - but not without viewers. Strategy asks industry pundits how Canadians
can be convinced that they need them.

The 1,000-channel universe crept up on us in September when nearly 50 new digital television channels hit the airwaves. Unfortunately the launch was destined to be underwhelming since only 20% of Canadian homes have digital TV capabilities – and many of those were tuned to CNN throughout the month. A paltry 2% of homes tuned into the new diginets during the free introductory period and now that viewers have to pay for them, there’s bound to be some casualties. Most diginets are relying on the marketing activities of the cable and satellite companies to secure subscribers although some are doing their own advertising. The Documentary Channel recently launched a new mixed-media campaign from Young & Rubicam Toronto with the theme line, ‘Television that tells the truth’. John Farquhar, Y&R’s president, says, ‘The key is to develop a creative yet simple message that emphasizes what makes the channel stand out as unique.’ There is great potential for targeted advertising with these digital niche networks – but not without viewers. Strategy asks industry pundits how Canadians
can be convinced that they need them.

Steve Conover

SVP, creative director

Ambrose Carr Linton Carroll, Toronto

Steve Conover says that beyond special rate deals, the new digital channels need more aggressive marketing and some top-notch programming to compel viewers to subscribe.

‘They’ve gone on air and waited for the flood of viewers to come to them. It clearly hasn’t happened. And, oh by the way, they’re giving it away for free. Wait until viewers need to pay for it.

‘The passive approach is doomed because unlike the first generation of additional cable channels, the novelty factor is gone and viewers are drowning in a sea of choice. What’ll make ‘em work?

‘One suggestion is a strategic alliance. Create the Digital Partnership Network. By pooling the channels’ limited individual marketing funds you end up with one decent amount to sell the collective with. Can’t get your collective act together guys? Then it really becomes survival of the fittest – every channel for itself.

‘This means offering advertisers unusual buys they can’t get elsewhere on conventional or specialty channels. Like specials on unique format commercials – two-minute cinema jobs, 45-second commercials or on-screen crawls. They could offer complete product exclusivity in a category. And special event buying like Guinness buying all of St. Patrick’s Day on MenTV.

‘The other key onus if they want to woo and keep subscribers is, of course, programming. Find or develop that one signature show that viewers just have to see.’

John Hilbrich

president

The Marketing Store, Toronto

John Hilbrich doesn’t believe mass marketing will sell these niche networks and suggests advertising directly to target groups.

‘This is, pure and simple, a niche sale. The channels need to be understood and marketed for what they are, purely niche offerings. Unfortunately they are currently being mass marketed – no wonder few see the virtue in them.

‘These stations are filled with very interesting, very valuable insights in the niche areas they fill. The key is to take those insights and use them to market these stations to the correct target groups.

‘Find the target groups who will be moved by the insights this programming provides and market directly to them. Avoid mass media. The Internet, targeted direct mail, viral e-mail programs are all ways to find them.

‘Imagine 30-second segments of these niche programs marketed on the Internet using viral marketing campaigns and new technology streaming techniques. Add an offer that couples a free box, free delivery, free set-up and a programming trial with a chance to win TV for life. This offer and its 30-second segment of a specific channel or bundle would get passed along quickly from friend to friend on the Net.

‘One of the packages, for example, the Rogers Digital TV ‘Family Package’ at $6.99 per month contains, among others, Discovery Kids, Discovery Civilization, Tech TV and National Geographic TV. Another $6.99 on my cable bill for a bunch of slightly interesting channels which I can’t even view or easily get information on, is not high on my priority list.

‘If this package was marketed to me on an education platform, I might be able to see the virtue in it. Given the issues with funding in education, any enrichment my kids can get outside of school is a good thing – ‘Mr. Hilbrich, can you imagine the enhanced education your kids could receive from insightful stories on the wilds of Africa, the Yukon trail, how skateboards are made, the physics of a bicycle or how ice freezes in a hockey arena, for only 23 cents per day? These [channels] also carry key programming which mirrors the Ontario primary school curriculum’. Hmmmm. Maybe I should think seriously about this?

‘Unfortunately, a number of heart-stopping barriers stand squarely in the way. First and most importantly, the cost. I currently pay $110 a month for my cable entertainment. That’s four times more than five years ago. Do I really need more specialty TV ‘packages’ when I don’t use what I’m already paying for?

‘Secondly, I don’t have the box. I am like the 80% of Canadians who can’t even receive the channels – because we don’t have the box. It is tough to [engage in the] trial or even understand the offering if I can’t even receive [the channels]. Of course, the ‘box’ costs another $10.95 a month (or $199 for a satellite dish). Guess what? The chances of me getting another box to stack on top of the two I already have are slim to none.

‘It’s a big problem, but easily solved. Give it away. Just like cell phones. Telcos and cellular phone manufacturers have figured out how to put the hardware into customer’s hands at low or no cost. Free hardware is the ultimate test driver.’

Alan Gee

chair and executive creative director

Gee, Jeffery & Partners Advertising, Toronto

Alan Gee says the new nets need to make selection easier for the over-programmed consumer, as broadcasting is moving toward narrowcasting and viewers who want customized ‘My TV.’

‘So the world of the 800-channel universe comes closer with the introduction of the latest group of digital TV channels. Do we need them? Yes. Do we want them? No. So how do we sell them?

‘Today we’re all time pressured. I can hardly watch one TV program a night let alone scan through over 100 stations looking for my ideal or favourite program. It’s not the programming on these new digital stations that’s wrong, it’s the way they are delivered or offered up to me. If, for example, I could program ‘My’ channel, from all the available programming out there – wow – now we’re talking (or should I say, watching).

‘Until the cable operators offer us this unique opportunity to mix and match from the vast selection, to suit our personal viewing needs (and perhaps they are with the advent of the new era of playback machines like TiVo) then the new channels are just more fodder to wade through.

‘So, how do you sell them to the great masses? Well, you forget about the masses and go with the classes. If I want to market these highly unique stations [such as Raptors TV or PrideVision], I have to go where the audience already is. These communities have a subculture that supports their interests. That’s where the marketing has to start.

‘Inside each segmented marketing choice today is a psychographic breakdown of the ideal user or consumer, that makes them say, ‘That’s my product, they know me and understand me.”

Philippe Garneau

partner

Garneau Wurstlin Philp Brand Engineering, Toronto

Philippe Garneau suggests that the industry should move away from the bundled offerings of the 1980s. He says subscribers want their programming options simplified. If they can’t cherry pick-and-pay, then give them the whole enchilada, and bypass the frustrating package A over package B deliberations.

‘The big challenge is I just can’t buy one. I can’t buy Sex TV because I’m a horny old guy. I have to buy 12 other things with it. Consumers want to control the experience. In a perfect world you’d be able to pick any channel you want based on your interest and the economics would make it affordable so you would never have to buy what you didn’t want.

‘A simple way [to push digital channels] is to keep producing them as freebies. Get me hooked. It’s the old trick – keep giving me a taste. I miss it when it goes away.

‘Let me know what’s out there. There are all of these brands out there vying for my attention but nobody is advertising to me. I’m having to buy them from a logo. Is that exciting to you? I don’t buy a book from its cover.

‘The paradigm for me is I plop my butt into a chair and pick up a remote – that’s the extent that I want to go to shopping for channels. I don’t want to pick up a brochure and read about it. I don’t want to dedicate any time to finding out what your channel is about, so advertise to me through commercials on the channels I already have. Make me wish – just like a movie – to want to see it, provided all the other caveats are respected, such as I can buy it economically.

‘What’s needed here is boldness. No one is going to complain about getting stuff they didn’t pay for if they feel they’re getting a deal in the first place. A marketing offer that asks, ‘how would you like to get 300 channels for this price?’ is going to capture my attention a little more than having to go point by point justifying one channel over another.

‘Nothing else has worked so far – that little bit-by-bit, ‘I’d like package number 17C or the $2.94 stuff’ approach. Don’t be so damn greedy guys – and make it simple. Ultimately, give them one big package.

‘When I turn on the radio, I know I can listen to anything on that dial. I don’t have to know I’ve only paid for CHUM, CFNY and the jazz station. It’s not the way the world is moving. When I go on the Internet, I get to see everything.

‘Don’t listen to people in focus groups tell you they don’t want to pay for something they don’t want. People have been paying for things they don’t want for years. Just give them another way of looking at it – for an extra $30 a month you get everything including those 17 channels you want.

‘The definition of stupidity is to keep trying the same old things. I don’t sense anything different from the sell they’re trying to do right now from the sell of the initial new services in the mid-80s. You had to buy the bundles. Every time they go back to the same old things and they’re always disappointed with the results. Try something different.’