Studios, cablers set campaign strategy

Promoters must weigh money, show selection concerns

Geez, it’s only television.

Battle campaigns set by five-star generals at the Pentagon are less secretive than this year’s upcoming Emmy strategy when it comes to deciphering how much and which shows the studios and networks are going to get behind.

Though certainly not as glamorous as the Oscars, an Emmy can often bring more prestige to a program and, more important, a larger viewing audience that could make the difference between cancellation or renewal.

The other, and possibly more important difference between Oscar and Emmy, is that the Oscar race overhauls itself every year with new pics and thesps. In Emmy land, if two of the nominees in any category are new from the previous year, that’s a major change. So when it comes time to setting campaign plans, it doesn’t often pay for studios, networks and cablers to promote everything that’s launched over the past 12 months.

“It’s a difficult and annoying process,” says Mark Zakarin, Showtime’s executive VP of original programming. “You have two emotions: One is that they’re all your children. But you have to be strategic and analytical about it. There are just so many dollars you can devote. If you promote it equally, you’re not being strategic.”

Studios also have to make sure not to ruffle the feathers of creators, show runners and thesps in choosing the series they promote. Networks traditionally have been much less involved than studios in planning Emmy campaigns.

Warner Bros. TV, for one, has lots on it plate. “Friends,” (three previous noms for best comedy) and “ER” (five noms, one win) can’t be taken for granted with voters, and there certainly will be a push for “The Drew Carey Show,” and two critically acclaimed dramas from John Wells: “Third Watch” and “The West Wing.”

Dana Walden, president of 20th Century Fox Television, saw two of her studios’ shows — “The Practice” and “Ally McBeal” — take home best drama and comedy, respectively, last year and adds that Fox is making an extra effort this year to get “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” noticed by Emmy voters.

“We’ve been very lucky and have been well represented, but ‘Buffy’ has been challenging, and we need to bring it to the forefront of members at Emmy time,” Walden says. “We have to be a little creative this year (with ‘Buffy’). We teased the critics’ quotes and challenged readers to pick the show we were promoting. You try to engage people in a way that will break a show out of the pack and enable it to be recognized.”

Cable used to have itsown version of the Emmys: the CableAce Awards. When that got scrapped, the pay TV nets concentrated on the Emmys.”We have to find a way for people to see our shows,” says Quentin Schaffer, senior VP of media relations at HBO. “The key for us is making sure the shows are nominated. You want to send out some tape mailings of shows that warrant attention, but you don’t want to do it for everything you’ve got.”

Scot Safon, senior VP of marketing for Turner Network Television, says cablers used to be at a competitive disadvantage against the broadcast nets in terms of people actually seeing their shows. But times have changed.

“A couple of things have evened the playing field,” Safon says. “People in cable have become more aggressive about the marketing of programs and sending out tapes. … When you get into the tape distribution angle, it gets more expensive, but there are lots of reasons to do it.”

For the smaller cabler, the job of getting noticed is much more difficult, and certainly expensive.

Mary Ann Minster, manager of corporate communications and awards at Comedy Central, says her network will have to shell out big bucks to get serious consideration.

“There is nothing you can do without spending a ton of money when you’re small and not seen in as many homes as broadcast networks,” says Minster, who worked for 12 years at NBC as the Peacock’s manager of awards. “It’s very costly to send tapes, but you have to do it. It’s not a level playing field because not everyone sees your show.”

But spending money may be the only way to cash in on Emmy’s upside. If “The Sopranos” wins, HBO’s subscriber base might increase, which means more revenue for the cabler. If NBC’s “Law & Order,” for example, is to win, the revenue benefit would be less immediate, hinging on a possible increase in viewers, particularly during a sweeps period.

Showtime’s Zakarin, though, says money is not the most important factor in an Emmy bump.

“There is a greater emphasis for Emmy nominations and wins because we’re in the perception business. Our revenue is garnered by people saying I need to subscribe because we’re doing great work.”

Turner’s Safon agrees industry perception is vital.

“When we have a show that has some Emmy recognition, we promote that fact. It winds up being a validation about the level of quality. It’s also a sign to our advertisers and the studios about doing great work.”

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