Nets jockey for fall promo primacy
Fox isn’t waiting for the fall season to start to pair its new comedy “New Girl” with one of its hottest shows, “Glee”: When “Glee: The 3D Concert Movie” opens in theaters Friday, fans will get a sneak peek at “Girl” in the form of a 3D trailer for the series specially made to accompany the film.
It’s just one of the ways broadcasters are increasingly — and in this case literally — adding dimension to their marketing efforts as the countdown to the fall launch begins.
It’s not easy to stand out this time of the year due to the unfortunate rhythms of the broadcast business, as advertisers have conditioned the TV industry to frontload the season with series launches. Fourteen new series are scheduled to bow during premiere week (Sept. 19-25) alone, on top of the 44 returning series also seeking attention.
And these shows aren’t just competing with each other but with an entertainment ecosystem loaded with theatrical, cable and syndica- syndication fare. Bowing in the fall certainly isn’t getting any easier: Of the new TV shows introduced in the 2010-11 season, only 23% made it to a second year — an even worse percentage than the 27% in the strike-affected 2007-08 season.
But such long odds haven’t stifled network efforts to distinguish their new shows from the pack. Here’s how they hope to do so:
Fox has frontloaded its fall with high-profile product aimed at rectifying the ratings softness the network often experiences in the fourth quarter. Joe Earley, prexy of marketing and communications at the net, estimates that the campaign for “The X Factor” is probably the most expensive in broadcast history, though he declined to divulge a number. On top of “X Factor” and “Girl,” Fox has to introduce big-budget drama “Terra Nova.”
“Normally, we have an A-level show and maybe a B and a B-,” Earley said. “Here we have an A++ and two other As. It’s absolutely taxing.”
Helping cover the budget for “X Factor” is the fact that its 10-month campaign can be defrayed across two different fiscal years at News Corp. A 100-page marketing plan devoted to the unscripted series breaks it into five phases that extend all the way into December rather than ending at the series’ Sept. 21 launch.
Fox has built buzz in recent weeks with promotion focused on the return of Simon Cowell. The third phase of the “X Factor” campaign began earlier this week with a series of spots intended to educate U.S. viewers on the skein’s format and its differences from “American Idol.”
With just five new series set for fall, CBS has little risk of spreading its marketing dollars too thinly. But the network will be just as focused on getting the word out on scheduling shifts for a pair of its existing shows — “The Good Wife” moving to Sunday, “CSI” moving to Wednesday — as it will be on supporting series premieres.
“We have two shows changing time periods that are very important to us,” said George Schweitzer, prexy of CBS Marketing Group. “We are treating them like new shows.”
That’s especially true of “Good Wife,” which has raised eyebrows with sexy key art of star Julianna Margulies with the tagline “New day. New time. New beginning.” With mounting critical acclaim and a critical turning point in the storyline that will send the title character in a new direction, CBS is hoping the third season really will mark a “new beginning” for the series.
“We want to use that phrase as a concept to recruit more viewers to the show,” Schweitzer said.
Another high-priority returning series for CBS is “Two and a Half Men.” To build suspense, the network is taking a less-is-more tack via a teaser campaign that reveals little about the introduction of Ashton Kutcher.
The Alphabet net will also have a big marketing priority with a returning series: “Desperate Housewives.”
The network’s disclosure last week that the show’s eighth season will be its last not only allows its creators to send it out in high style but provides a marketing hook that will eventize the series on a Sunday where “Housewives” needs to be strong to support multiple new series launching on the night.
Don’t underestimate the size of the sendoff, warns Marla Provencio, exec VP of marketing at ABC. “For ‘Desperate Housewives,’ we’re certainly treating its departure just as big as ‘Lost,’?” she said.
ABC is taking a more staggered approach to its series-launch pattern than its counterparts, which is a blessing for Provencio.
She points to the example of drama “Once Upon a Time,” which bows Oct. 23, relatively late in the fall. That’s all the better to accommodate a unique series for which Provencio believes longer spots will be needed to explain its complex premise (the storyline is split into dual worlds).
Fittingly for a series with a distinctly theatrical feel, the “Time” marketing campaign will have the feel of a movie launch, complete with outdoor ads that will showcase individual characters as opposed to the series itself.
“Taking us out of the clutter of September really allows us to have a tremendous platform,” Provencio said.
Just as important as what you promote is where you promote. For NBC, going into the fall for the first time under the new ownership of Comcast provides a distinct advantage when you take into account the sheer breadth of the internal assets at the network’s disposal: countless cable channels and the distribution footprint of the cable operator on air, online and VOD across 26 million homes. NBCUniversal has already demonstrated the might of Project Symphony, a cross-marketing extravaganza in which the conglom brings all of its assets together to support selected productions, as it did to much success already with NBC’s “The Voice” and Universal Pictures’ “Hop.”
“The fall NBC slate is of critical importance to the company at large,” said outgoing NBC marketing chief Adam Stosky, who is stepping aside for Showtime alum Len Fogge later this month. “The reach of the entire company is astounding and unparalleled.”
The Peacock has also built out a retail element to its marketing plan through a partnership announced earlier this week with Bloomingdales, which will feature stars of new series like “The Playboy Club” in stores and catalogs.
If there’s one sort of promotional platform that has become increasingly important to play, it’s social networks like Facebook and Twitter, where the crucial currency of word of mouth takes on an entirely new meaning. Facebook, in particular, is instrumental in the CW’s efforts to tout its new shows to a target demographic of young women. The network’s strategy is to take the rabid fanbase already congregating around fan pages for established shows like “Vampire Diaries” and feed them exclusive materials like key art for a similar show, in this case “The Secret Circle.”
“You have to start with that loyal base so when you launch, you have a substantial audience that you can talk to,” said Rick Haskins, exec VP digital, new technologies, marketing and brand strategy (who is also exiting his post later this month).
But online is just part of an overall marketing mix that must deliver some kind of unconventional execution or risk fading into the woodwork. The CW hopes to do that in a special “Circle” insert for the Sept. 9 fall preview issue of Entertainment Weekly in which readers can light and blow out an electronic flame atop the illustration of a candle by touching metal disks and a wind sensor embedded on the page.
Haskins said: “Whatever we do, we’re just not going to do cookie-cutter campaigns.”