CBS has a dilemma. The network is overhauling its entire primetime lineup to go after younger viewers. But since its audience right now is on the 49 side of 18-49, promoting the new shows on its own network won’t do a whole lot of good.
The answer? Cable. CBS is buying ad time on cable networks that skew young, including MTV, VH1, E! Entertainment, Comedy Central and Lifetime Television.
“We’re aiming for a demo that is outside of our primary reach,” explains George Schweitzer, executive VP, marketing and communications, CBS Broadcast Group. While CBS does reach young viewers through “Late Night With David Letterman,” the network, Schweitzer said, nevertheless “has to supplement our on-air promotion to reach these audiences.
But network promos aren’t traveling a one-way street into the cable universe. Over the last several months, Viacom’s music web VH1 has been reformatting itself to appeal to the 25-34 audience. As part of the switch, the cable net produced spots starring Madonna, Sting and Sheryl Crow which made their debut on NBC.
“The people who watch NBC are VH1 viewers,” says VH1 president John Sykes. NBC even went so far as to help promote the premieres of the spots themselves: NBC West Coast president Don Ohlmeyer, a friend of Sykes, reached out to the network’s owned stations to promote the spots on their local news.
VH1 is willing to return the favor. “We don’t think of ourselves as competing with the other networks,” says Sykes. “We understand that viewers will want to watch certain events on other networks.”
But the growth in cross-medium advertising brings questions about when spots promoting competitors should run – and whether the strategy can backfire.
“We sell the rope for them to hang themselves,” says Harvey Ganot, president, MTV Networks Sales. “I can think of no greater proof that marketers look for select audiences than having the networks go to cable for promotion. It confirms our argument that cable is class, not mass.”
Ganot says MTV does not sell ad time to broadcast networks in the upfront but makes remaining inventory available. And there are ground rules. A CBS spot, for example, will be limited to one run per hour. Also, spots are not usually allowed to specifically mention when a particular show is airing.
MTV Networks also won’ t sell spots promoting programming that competes with its own. Spots for kids programming are a no-no because they would compete against Nickelodeon.
Some cable networks steer clear of cross-medium promotions. ESPN and ESPN2, both majority owned by Capital Cities/ABC, rarely run spots promoting the Alphabet web or other networks.
Ironically, while CBS is buying time on cable to promote its new shows, the network does not for the most part take ads from basic cable networks. VH1 bought spots on “Late Night With David Letterman” through the CBS-owned stations.
Meanwhile, all the broadcast networks have carried ads for cable’s newest competitor, direct broadcast satellite. But the broadcast webs are not carried by DBS, meaning that the networks are promoting a service that, if it takes off, could reduce their household reach.
Premium cable networks, especially Time Warner’s HBO, rely heavily on the broadcast networks for promotion. But the networks don’t allow HBO to promote specific times for shows. Despite that, HBO’s original movies often beat the networks in the ratings in HBO homes.