Nets Put Big Push Behind Recaps to Lure Viewers

NEW YORK TV networks are increasingly using catch-up programming, otherwise known as recap episodes, as a strategy to lure new viewers who may have missed out on a show the first time around. They are even crafting marketing efforts around the recap programming that goes well beyond slapped-together clip shows.

Given the overabundance of choice in the viewing marketplace, these programs, which typically provide the primary plot points for a series in a single episode, are becoming a common strategy to lure new audiences. “No network today can afford to leave a viewer behind—there is too much money at stake,” said John Zamoiski, co-CEO of entertainment and marketing firm Norm Marshall Associates.

But luring new viewers means providing more than just plot highlights, said Adam Stotsky, svp, marketing and creative at the Sci-Fi Channel. It requires a surround strategy, leveraging as many distribution outlets and evolving technologies as possible.

For example, NBC Universal’s Battlestar Galactica (shown on the Sci-Fi Channel) launched a media blitz devoted to its recap episode, The Story So Far (covering seasons one and two). It partnered with Best Buy to distribute free DVDs of the episode and play it on in-store screens. Stotsky’s group also partnered with iTunes, where the episode could be downloaded for free. “We weren’t looking for money, we were looking for maximum exposure,” said Stotsky. The program debuted on NBC on the West Coast following NFL football last summer in an attempt to target an atypical demographic, added Stotsky.

Before a recap episode for Top Chef last month, Bravo asked viewers to submit questions about the show through its Web site. “People want to be engaged and involved. They want the recipes, they want to know about the chefs, the judges, the competition. This is one way of letting them in,” said Andy Cohen, svp, programming and production at Bravo.

Grey’s Anatomy has produced four recap episodes over the past year. Michael Benson, evp of marketing at ABC Entertainment, said these episodes were designed partly for its affiliates when the network was not programming their stations. “There was a high demand for the show from these affiliates, and it allowed us to reach people we wouldn’t have been able to otherwise,” he said. Also to promote the show, ABC partnered with alternative rock band The Fray, which made a music video available on that interspliced scenes from the upcoming season.

For advertisers, the cost is minimal for an investment that may translate into big business.

“Recap episodes account for a fraction of the ratings. The CPM would be lower, so if you pay twenty dollars for a show, then you pay fifteen dollars for the recap episode,” said Larry Novenstern, evp, joint managing director, NewCast at Optimedia. Only a small portion of the ads placed in the upfront or the scatter market would go to the recap episode, but the investment, Novenstern said, could be high, particularly in aligning a brand to a hit program. “It really has to be a hit show in order for a recap episode to work,” he added.

And the pay-off doesn’t necessarily stop at broadcast either, as Norm Marshall’s Zamoiski pointed out. “Recap episodes can be a huge component in driving the DVD business for viewers who get hooked into a show and then decide they want to catch up on the backstory,” he said.

Whether these efforts have an impact on ratings remains to be seen. Battlestar Galactica’s audience has steadily declined since its first season, and the show won’t be returning after its fourth.