TNT blitzes b’casters with features

Advertisers to nab three runs for the price of one

TNT has bought an arsenal of first-network-window theatrical movies to serve as weapons against the broadcasters, but the way it’s using “The Perfect Storm” and “Gone in 60 Seconds,” early next year counts as something close to all-out combat.

Over the Jan. 10 weekend, TNT will run “Perfect Storm” in primetime on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, following a massive promotional blitz, and sell spots to advertisers across all three runs as one purchase.

“Instead of buying an episode of ‘Friends’ on NBC in a 30-minute time frame, the advertiser is buying my movie in three nights,” said Steve Koonin, executive VP and general manager of TNT.

“Storm” will be TNT’s fifth all-weekend movie experiment, following “The Matrix” and “The Mummy” earlier this year, “The Thomas Crown Affair” remake last month and “A Perfect Murder,” coming in November.

When TNT accumulated the gross ratings of “Thomas Crown,” which actually ran four times during the July 27 weekend, the movie ended up the eighth highest-rated program on all of television for the week among adults 18-49, beating such formidable broadcast primetime rivals as “Fear Factor” and “Friends.”

Imbalance fought

Like all of the general-entertainment cable networks, TNT is trying to address the frustrating imbalance in which the broadcast networks are pulling in less than 50% of the audience but raking in about 80% of the comparative ad dollars.

But the problem with TNT’s strategy of averaging the rating of four runs of a movie is that “it’s comparing apples to oranges,” said Harry Keeshan, executive VP of national broadcast for media buyer PHD. “Four runs against one run of a broadcast network program is not exactly an equal playing field.”

Howard Nass, head of his own media consultancy and former senior VP of TN Media, said, “TNT’s pitch is legitimate because the audience is unduplicated,” meaning viewers aren’t watching “Thomas Crown” more than once during the weekend.

“And, let’s face it,” Nass said, “media buyers like to place their spots in high-rated shows, and TNT is getting its foot in the door with its weekend strategy, which does deliver a high overall rating.”

Looked down upon

Koonin gets angry at what he regards as Madison Avenue’s disdain of cable networks because of its assumption that cable shoehorns more commercials into each primetime hour than broadcast.

Citing the most recent figures of the American Assn. of Advertising Agencies, he said the average primetime hour on the Big Four broadcast networks encompasses 16 minutes and eight seconds of non-program material, compared to TNT’s average of 16 minutes and two seconds.

And with first-network-window movies like “Rush Hour 2,” “The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring” and “Ocean’s Eleven” coming to TNT over the next few years, Koonin said he thinks his patience will be rewarded with a bigger piece of Madison Avenue’s ad budgets.