The Big Four’s blurbmeisters are preparing for a fall Armageddon.
More than 25 series are set to bow in the first few weeks of the next TV season on broadcast alone. Throw in more big time period changes than usual, such as “The Big Bang Theory’s” switch to Thursday.
If that’s not a noisy enough fall already, the broadcast webs promise to launch additional frosh entries by November — and don’t forget cable, which no longer considers September and October off-limits.
“This is the most competitive fall we’ve seen in decades,” said newly promoted Fox marketing prexy Joe Earley. “And everyone is spending money. Everyone is going to be creative in social networking and new breakthrough media. It’s going to be a dogfight.”
It all comes to a head the week of Sept. 20. Having experimented with staggered launches in the past, the networks have lately returned to unveiling most of their sked during fall premiere week. This year, even Fox is expected to launch a good chunk of its primetime lineup that week.
At nets with several shows to launch, not every series will get a proper kickoff, execs admitted.
“Somebody is getting a big push and somebody’s not,” one exec said. “They can’t support all of their new shows at the same level, there’s just too many.”
Given the heightened competish, Earley said it’s been tough to buy marketing time, as slots in print, cable, radio, online and outdoor have gone fast.
“We have seen the most aggressive buying we’ve ever seen this early in the summer,” he said. “Everyone is spending money.”
At the Peacock, for example, NBC Universal TV Entertainment chairman Jeff Gaspin has confirmed the net bumped up both its programming and marketing budgets by 40% this season.
“Jeff has been very forthright about the underinvestment of the network over the last couple of years,” said NBC Entertainment marketing prexy Adam Stotsky, “and incredibly helpful in providing us the necessary resources to launch such a big slate of shows.”
At ABC, the challenge comes in balancing marketing messages for summer shows like “Scoundrels” and “The Gates” with its fall rookies. The goal, of course, is to build up enough circulation in the summer so that its on-air promos for fall are actually seen.
“I don’t remember the last time we launched 12 new shows in the summer,” said ABC marketing exec VP Mike Benson. “But that’s by design. Those shows then become a good promo base for the fall, all summer long.”
Among other tools at their disposal, the rise of social media has had the most dramatic impact on how the nets rattle the fences.
Fans on social networking sites offer testimonials for series “in their purest, most organic form,” said CBS marketing topper George Schweitzer. But marketers must walk a fine line, as auds will get angry if they feel they’re being aggressively targeted on such sites.
Ultimately, on-air remains the best way to promote your own wares, Schweitzer said.
“There’s no substitute for a good, 30-second promo,” he said. “No amount of social media can make up for sight, sound and motion.”
Earley noted the nets can’t ignore traditional media in their marketing plans.
“If you don’t do outdoor, you can feel it,” he said. “If you’re not in magazines, you can feel it. And if you’re not on cable or radio, you can feel it.”
The networks are keeping much of their marketing plans under wraps, although it’s safe to say a mix of traditional and new-media stunts are in the works. Expect to see more early sampling opportunities as well — Fox, for example, plans to find ways to distribute the pilot for Monday night drama “Lonestar” to auds.
Here’s an early network-by-network look at fall priorities and branding campaigns:
Now that ABC has re-established a comedy block on Wednesday nights (thanks to hits like “Modern Family”), the network will build that brand via the new tagline “Laugh On.”
“We haven’t been able to do that since TGIF,” Benson said. “Not only will we drive sampling for individual comedies, but we’re bringing them all under one brand.”
The network’s priorities include Monday night drama “Castle,” which is turning into a sleeper hit for the net. And, of course, new hourlongs “No Ordinary Family” and “My Generation” are favorites at the net and will be called upon to open Tuesday and Thursday nights, requiring more than your average push.
Early this summer, Alphabet has juggled summer and fall series by marketing the summer shows and sending viewers to ABC’s website for sneak previews of its fall shows.
“It’s going to be a competitive season, and everyone is trying to get ahead of the game,” said ABC marketing exec VP Marla Provencio.
According to Schweitzer, the Eye is off to a good start in title recognition for its rookie fall shows.
Of course, it helps when one of your shows is a modern remake of “Hawaii Five-O,” while another is based on the popular Twitter feed “Shit My Dad Says.”
For “Five-O,” CBS will market not only the show, but also its iconic island setting — and that famous theme song. Eye is considering releasing a fresh take on the tune to radio stations. Net plans to market directly to fans of the original.
“There’s a built-in, huge community that worships the legacy show,” Schweitzer said. “We’re going to speak directly to that fan base.”
Eye is also working closely with the team behind Twitter, given the birthplace of the (slightly retitled) “$#*! My Dad Says.”
CBS’ key priority, however, is to make sure “The Big Bang Theory” successfully moves to Thursday.
As for this year’s overall network campaign, CBS is going with a new version of the Romantics’ 1980 hit “What I Like About You.” The song selection serves as the legacy of late CBS marketing exec Ron Scalera, who chose the song before passing away in April.
After a few years slowly building its “So Fox” campaign, Earley plans to crank it up a notch.
“We’ve been using ‘So Fox’ as a slow build,” he said. “We plan to embrace it a little bit more. We’ll call out why each show is ‘So Fox.’ ”
Meanwhile, just as Fox promoted sampling of “Glee” last year via online sneaks and other means, this year it will spread “Lonestar’s” pilot as virally as possible.
“We’re finding some fun ways to let people preview it,” Earley said. “It’s the type of show we think should be sampled ahead of time. It’s pretty complex and has so much dimension to it.”
Fox won’t run from the show’s oil storyline, but will also make sure that it’s promoted with sensitivity, Earley said. (Ditto “Running Wilde,” in which star Will Arnett plays an oil exec.)
The Peacock has already announced its first major partnership of the fall, launching a fall preview site with Microsoft.
“There’s a significant audience base of TV enthusiasts that recognize the upfront as what’s coming this fall,” Stotsky said. “We wanted to create an experience that captured every bit of news coming out of the upfront.”
NBC launched a network affinity program, dubbed “Fan It,” in which viewers are rewarded points to redeem for various rewards. “Fan It” came about after NBC witnessed the grassroots campaign to save “Chuck.””We tried to figure out how to harness that fandom, and challenged the team at NBC on how to scale it across the entirety of the NBC base,” Stotsky said.
NBC is heavily marketing Monday night entry “The Event” — and will hammer the show particularly during “Sunday Night Football.” Peacock also sees opportunity Wednesdays at 8 p.m. with “Undercovers,” andwill spend more time marketing Thursday now that CBS is aggressively moving “Big Bang” to the night.Meanwhile, the tagline “More Colorful” will remain a key part of NBC’s campaigns.
“For us it’s not just a coat of paint, it’s a fundamental operating philosophy for the whole operation,” Stotsky said.