TV CHANNEL BLUES
NETWORKS SEEK NOVEL WAYS TO MARKET THIN LINEUP
By HOLLY M. SANDERS
Posted: 3:53 am
September 1, 2008
With broadcast TV still recovering from the writers' strike, grappling with fewer new shows this season and facing more competition than ever, network executives are tweaking their approach to marketing their fall lineups.
For one thing, it's tough to promote a program without a pilot episode. ABC found that out the hard way with "Opportunity Knocks," a game show that is still being filmed.
Absent footage from the actual show, the network shot a "conceptual" teaser spot to give viewers an idea of what the series was about.
With only two new shows to launch this fall, including cop show "Life on Mars," ABC is spending more of its promotional budget on re-launching shows whose first seasons were cut short by last winter's strike by TV writers.
"We have two programs where we don't physically have the shows in house yet," said Mike Benson, ABC Entertainment's head of marketing, advertising and promotion. "The other issue we're dealing with is sophomore shows that have been off the air since September."
In a new twist, the network sponsored an entire issue of TV Guide and included a DVD featuring pilot episodes of "Dirty Sexy Money," "Private Practice" and "Pushing Daisies."
Typically, the major networks decide which series will get the biggest fall campaigns after the "upfronts" in May, when they preview new shows for advertisers.
However, the writers strike disrupted the pilot-development season. As a consequence, the networks have only 17 new shows slated for fall - far fewer than unusual.
After the strike ended, NBC announced it would move to a 52-week schedule with new programs debuting year-round.
"That gets to be challenging," said John Miller, chief marketing officer for NBC Universal Television Group. "The same time we're working on fall we're also working on promotions for January."
NBC took advantage of its highly rated broadcast of the Beijing Games to air non-stop teaser spots for new shows, including the mother-daughter duo "Kath & Kim" and "My Own Worst Enemy," starring Christian Slater.
For "Crusoe," a new adventure based on the Daniel Defoe novel, the network will go so far as to strand a real-life Crusoe somewhere in New York and broadcast his travails online.
With five new shows, CBS has the most new additions to its fall schedule. It also has the most stable schedule compared with its broadcast rivals. Still, the network is trying out a new marketing tactic.
The network plans to cross-promote its new and returning shows, such as crime dramas "Eleventh Hour" and "CSI," on CNet, a collection of tech-savvy Web sites CBS purchased for $1.8 billion earlier this year.
"The competition grows all the time," said George Schweitzer president of CBS Marketing Group. "It's not just from the other networks but cable, broadcast, satellite and the Internet."