Nets Boost Nontraditional Efforts Despite Higher Cost

Realizing they cannot possibly grow their fall-season prime-time audiences simply by marketing in traditional ways (running lots of on-air promotions for the fall lineup during the summer), the broadcast networks are leaving no stone unturned in trying different ways to draw new viewers.

CBS, for the first time, will hold two major events in New York tied to its Survivor series and to new sitcom How I Met Your Mother. On Sept. 12, the net will hold a Survivor tribal council on an elaborate set in the middle of Times Square, conducted by show host Jeff Probst. The public will be able to participate and win prizes. Two weeks later, the cast from How I Met Your Mother will be on hand for what CBS is billing the largest speed-dating event in the country, sponsored by Perfect, in Grand Central Terminal’s Great Hall.

“In the past, we have had street teams giving out show premiere DVDs and things like that, but this is the first time we are doing these big-scale events,” said George Schweitzer, CBS executive vp/marketing and communications.

NBC is hosting events for The Biggest Loser and Three Wishes, and recently did a beach flyover promotion for its new drama Surface, giving away branded towels at beaches on both coasts. NBC also created custom promo spots for new sitcom My Name is Earl that it ran on jumbo screens in four Major League Baseball stadiums in New York and Los Angeles.

ABC will again promote Desperate Housewives on dry-cleaning bags and will sneak T-shirts into some of those bags. The network also plans to run an exclusive ad insert in Entertainment Weekly’s Sept. 16 issue, which will consist of specially designed trading cards from Lost. Mike Benson, senior vp, marketing for ABC, has more original, nontraditional promotions planned, but said he would rather spring them on viewers rather than announce them. “We want the audience to kind of stumble onto them,” he said. “Talking about them in advance deflates the buzz once they happen.”

While promoting TV shows in movie theaters is not new, it has grown among the nets. For the fall season, CBS has bought theater time for Two and a Half Men and How I Met Your Mother. UPN is promoting Everybody Hates Chris. NBC is touting My Name is Earl, Surface and E-Ring. ABC is plugging Lost, Commander in Chief and Invasion. Fox is pushing Prison Break. And the WB is touting Supernatural.

The movie-trailer spots are not just repackaged on-air TV promos. “If it seems like a promo spot they can see in their homes, people are going to get annoyed,” said Vince Manze, president, NBC Agency. “People are spending a lot to go to the movies, so we need to step up creatively with these spots,” agreed Benson. “We cut special trailers for the theaters.”

The networks’ move to more nontraditional marketing is considerably more expensive, which has forced them to focus on a select number of shows. “Theater advertising,” said Benson, “is a very expensive medium.”