TV Taps Goats, Cows and Data to Catch Viewers for Fall

Getting people to tune in to TV shows has gotten so complex it now requires everything from digital-data analytics to animal husbandry.

Yes, ABC has already seeded TV and the web with a glitzy video using Taylor Swift’s new single to hawk its Thursday-night lineup (think “Grey’s Anatomy” and “How to Get Away With Murder”). “With all the competition out there, you really need to make some noise,” said Rebecca Daugherty, executive vice president of marketing for ABC Entertainment. But the network will also hold screenings for its new “Kevin (Probably) Saves the World” where guests can treat themselves to a session of goat yoga. Yes, that’s right: You can do downward dog with an upward goat scaling your back.

CBS, meanwhile, will promote the sitcom “Me, Myself and I,” which examines its protagonist at three different times in his life, with a website that allows users to upload a photo of themselves, then watch it “age.” But the network also asked visitors to the Iowa State Fair this summer to spend a few seconds trying to guess the weight of a cow in a promotion aimed at boosting its new weekend drama “Wisdom of the Crowd.”

“Before, the viewers found us,” said George Schweitzer, the longtime president of marketing at CBS. “Now we have to go find the viewers.”

As the new TV season beckons, the broadcast networks are pulling out all the stops to let potential viewers know what’s available. But the task, once relatively simple, has become daunting. No longer can network executives count on millions of viewers to start watching a show simply by running promos on their own air (though they still do a lot of that). Instead, they turn to consumer analytics to mine the audience niches most likely to tune in to a specific program and then use digital outreach to spur those potential fans to pass the word to friends.

“Before, the viewers found us. Now we have to go find the viewers.”
CBS’ George Schweitzer

No one can afford to be complacent: Approximately 75% to 80% of broadcast TV’s new shows fail. That’s exacerbated by a glut of new video content from cable networks, streaming-video-on-demand services and social-media outlets. So the networks tend to leave no stone unturned. “A smart marketing plan is always integrated, balanced and specifically built for a distinct target audience,” said Shannon Ryan, chief marketing officer for Fox Television Group. “We continue to see proven success with some traditional media such as cable, but also, as data and measurement evolve, we monitor very promising success with digital, social and other nontraditional media.”

Among some other intriguing efforts:

*To hype “Dynasty,” the CW will outfit a jitney bus that takes weekend vacationers to the Hamptons with tank tops and tumblers devoted to the show.

* To drum up attention for military drama “SEAL Team,” CBS distributed seat cushions to attendees of the Navy football home opener Sept. 9 in Annapolis, Md.

* To promote “The Gifted,” based on Marvel Comics’ “X-Men” stories, Fox is taking an X-Gene Screening Station to local affiliates where fans can be tested to see whether or not they are mutants. People will get an online genetic profile a few weeks later.

* ABC is using advice offered by U.S. mayors to the protagonist at the center of “The Mayor,” which centers on a young rapper elected mayor of his hometown. ABC’s Daugherty says the tactic can be used to spark attention at the local stations of the elected official who gave the advice.

*CBS affiliates held watching parties for the recent solar eclipse and handed out items reminding the crowd about the debut of “Young Sheldon.”

*ABC is using advice gleaned from real mayors of sundry U.S. cities and offering it to the new protagonist at the center of its new “The Mayor.”

New TV shows aren’t the only programs getting a promotional boost. As linear TV watching is transformed by a growing ability to binge-watch, some networks are investing in tactics that remind TV fans to catch up on past seasons of older shows.

The CW worked with analytics company Samba to reach people who watched reruns of “Riverdale” on Netflix this summer. The CW is also working to reach fans who have interacted with the show’s social pages and accounts. At ABC, “Black-ish” is entering its fourth season with a new time slot. Network promos serve as reminders and suggest that viewers catch up with past seasons of the comedy on Hulu.

Tying promo tactics to ratings success isn’t the easiest task. In 2004, for example, ABC placed ads for its new “Desperate Housewives” on dry-cleaning bags. The show went on to become a big hit. But in 2007, CBS tested an extremely interesting gambit for the launch of its vampire drama “Moonlight” that involved lining the transparent glass doors of supermarket freezer with something called “visual ice” that solidified into images promoting the new program, which did not last beyond its first season. The rise of new technology allows the TV networks to reach fans with greater precision, says CBS’ Schweitzer.  “Things are much more targeted now,” he says.



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