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Jul 16, 2009

Project Lifetime - The reality is, to beat her competitors in cable TV, Andrea Wong has to put on a good show.

The reality is, to beat her competitors in cable TV, Andrea Wong has to put on a good show.


IT'S A SUNDAY EVENING in a deserted office building in midtown Manhattan and Andrea Wong, the 42-year-old CEO of Lifetime Networks, is midway through a dress rehearsal for a sales pitch. Wong isn't hyping a new star, or a new movie, or even a new series. She's touting an entire year's worth of programming and, if she succeeds, she'll secure the majority of Lifetime's ad revenue for an entire year. This is a mega-pitch, worth several hundred million dollars, and Wong, MBA '93, needs to nail it.

The pitch, running precisely 53 minutes, involves short speeches and a number of video clips. Wong and her staff are watching a clip from an original sitcom—Sherri —starring Sherri Shepherd, the boisterous actress who co-hosts The View.Sherri is explaining why she won't give her two-timing husband a second chance.

Wong's staff has devoted more than 200 meetings and 2 1/2 months of work to fine-tuning this presentation. They know this clip's punch line by heart, and even so, most of them chuckle. Wong doesn't crack a smile: The only question that matters now is whether ad executives will laugh.

In the coming week, Wong and her staff will shuttle around Manhattan to make their case in the boardrooms of 13 major ad agencies. They won't be the only ones out there selling. Each spring, usually at grand centralized events, the heads of the major broadcast and cable networks converge on Manhattan to pitch their shows. The ritual known as upfronts (a time to buy ads "up front," before the season begins) can make or break a network or, for that matter, the network's CEO.

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Jul 14, 2009

Can Early Hype Benefit New TV Shows Come Fall?

Networks Are Using Multiple Forms of Media to Start Creating Potential Audience

NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Can you interest a TV viewer in a new fall show when he or she is wholly immersed in the activities of early summer -- or, more removed still, enjoying older programs in the late spring? TV networks are trying to determine whether promoting new shows earlier can bring them bigger audiences come September and October.

ABC ran promos for 'Flash Forward' even before the network had publicly admitted it was picking up the show for the fall.
ABC ran promos for 'Flash Forward' even before the network had publicly admitted it was picking up the show for the fall.
Photo Credit: ABC

Walt Disney's ABC sparked thoughts of fall in late April by running seconds-long promos for its new mysterious drama "Flash Forward" even before the network had publicly admitted it was picking up the show for the fall. News Corp.'s Fox, meanwhile, aggressively promoted its highly anticipated sing-along drama "Glee" by running the show's pilot after one of the last episodes of "American Idol" for the 2008-2009 season. CBS has embraced an intriguing tactic to arm itself for fall: It's giving affiliates promotional materials to tout programming in the 10 p.m. hour in advance of NBC's "Jay Leno Show" talk-show launch.

Within the industry, the failure rate for new broadcast-TV programs is widely estimated to be 75% to 80%. So it's no surprise the networks have begun to stray from business-as-usual launch plans that call for nearly all of the promotion for a new show to start mere weeks before its autumn debut. Thanks to the rise of social-networking techniques involving YouTube, Facebook and Twitter, tipping off die-hard fans to early peeks at selected programs can lead -- or so network executives hope -- to more buzz and a viral priming of the pump that create larger audiences of interest come September.

"When you launch a show in the fall, it's like the box office: You've got to get everyone there for the premiere. And then you've got to get them back for week two, which only gives you six days to convince those who want to come back and to try to get new people," explained Joe Earley, exec VP-marketing and communications, Fox Broadcasting. "What we're doing now gives us four months to try to get people to sample and come on board."

Time to break tradition
The networks aren't abandoning their pre-season maneuvers. Late August and early September have been filled for years with clever promotional stunts, such as putting ads for specific CBS programs on eggs and deli packages -- even supermarket freezer doors. Fox once orchestrated a city-by-city tour for its now canceled "Terminator" series. "There is no substitute" for heavy marketing in the weeks before a program's launch, said Rick Haskins, exec VP-marketing for the CW.

And yet the networks are realizing that they needn't stay rooted to tradition. New dramas and comedies cost millions of dollars to produce and promote, and many of them are substantially more complex and harder to explain than those of the past. "Flash Forward" centers on a worldwide phenomenon that leaves people seeing months into their future, then trying to tie their present to their visions of days ahead. "Glee" boasts a radical new concept for prime-time TV: a story about a chorale group in a local high school whose members hail from different strata of teen society (try mixing "Cop Rock" with "Freaks and Geeks"), and includes songs in every episode.

As a result, networks are starting to give certain fall-season candidates priority, and then use many different forms of media to build exposure to potential audiences, said Michael Benson, exec VP-marketing, ABC Entertainment Group. "You've got to start earlier on" TV shows, he said. Not only will ABC try to get promos in front of audiences for notable spring and summer content, such as season finales, the NBA Finals or "Wipeout," but will also use emerging venues, such as search terms and viral web sites. "We've got to go beyond just putting a promo out to build awareness," said Mr. Benson.

Indeed, many networks followed the official announcements of their fall lineups by putting up clips on their own sites and on YouTube. NBC went out and purchased ads related to keywords for its new comedy "Community" as well as the "Jay Leno Show," said Adam Stotsky, president-marketing, NBC Entertainment. "We can be there with not only links to our website but also be driving messaging through paid placement," he said. Likewise, the CW had YouTube clips of its fall dramas up online right after its upfront presentation, said Mr. Haskins, and has created "fan" pages on Facebook (As of Tuesday, a page for the coming drama "Vampire Diaries" had 7100 "friends.")

Tried and true techniques
Some of these techniques are tried and true. ABC has long used its NBA Finals as a promotional venue, and running ads on TV for the fall right after an upfront presentation is a technique NBC has used in the past. Still, there's an emerging sense that networks can do more to goose interest over a longer period of time, thanks to the rise of the web as a media vehicle.

Because online media tends to attract enthusiastic niches of people with very specific interests, TV marketers end up "talking to an audience that is voracious in its appetite for information," said Mr. Stotsky. "What was historically germane to just fanboys is become how the mass mainstream is learning about new ideas, new shows, and building relationships with those shows and expectations for those shows -- well in advance of their actually coming to air."

Of course, none of this precludes the heavy hype and promotional artillery fire TV viewers come to expect as the leaves get ready to turn color. "Every year, there is more pressure to get attention," said George Schweitzer, president-CBS Marketing Group. "This is early-awareness stuff. This isn't the heavy lifting yet."

Jul 13, 2009

Are All Social Networks the Same? BW asks: What's a Friend Worth?

In an age when Obama has become President, it's embarrassing for the primary press to continue to lump new technology trends into one bucket.

Are all social networks the same? Are all Chinese slant-eyed geeks? Are all blacks the same? Are we asking the wrong questions?

As with race issues, a little knowledge leading to general ignorance shouldn't be tolerated.

What's a Friend Worth?

The cover of the June issue of BusinessWeek asks, "What's a Friend Worth?" Not to single out BW, but many primary news organizations have promoted the same thinking - flawed thinking.

The assumption that all social networks depend on the notion of expanding circles of friends makes them all the same. This notion IS in common among Facebook, Myspace, LinkedIn, and Twitter. Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, NYTimes, and others are trying to copy the same notion. Thus, are all social networks the same?


Only to superficial analysts who can't see beyond the color of faces.

Facebook for Friends

Facebook is about past friends. I've reconnected with hundreds of old friends via Facebook.

Facebook is not particularly effective for making new friends. The policy for dual agreement to connect - slows one's ability to gain connections on Facebook. With my open policy to connect, about 150 of my connections are new. And many of those who spam frequently, I wish I had not connected with them at all.

LinkedIn for Business Development

LinkedIn is about business connections - some old, some new.

LinkedIn is not effective for maintaining touch among friends. LinkedIn does do a good job to introduce people with common business interests.

Twitter for List Development

Twitter is not for friends, but for lists.

A minority may use Twitter to maintain touch among true friends. But, it's not particularly rich in features to support contact management.

In reality, Twitter is list management. Celebrities use it to manage their fan base. Millions compete to develop their mutual lists. It's an adult game, popular among marketers and entrepreneurs.

Everyone loves it for receiving, sharing, and distributing information.

Myspace is Neverland

Myspace was the leader. I'm not sure what community they serve. Not surprisingly, they are losing share rapidly to the new leaders.

What will happen to Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, and NYTimes' efforts to build social networks? If they have poor execution and follow the mixed vision from the likes of Business Week, they will have the same future as Myspace. With a clear vision, there's room for more communities based on the common social network notion.

Copying Features

When social networks copy features from each other, are they moving to displace the other?

Not necessarily.

The stronger companies will copy only those features that reinforce their position in the marketplace. We don't need alarming headlines that suggest XYZ is after ABC by copying one feature of their services.

American capitalism requires competition. It also makes great headlines. But, don't believe everything you read.

What's a Friend Worth?

Back to the question of the worth of a friend. Is it a relevant question - given the different focus of the various sites?

Is a subscriber a friend? Is a friend a friend? Is a follower a friend? Is a connection a friend?

Apples and oranges.

Stupid question.

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