Two young New York companies-Burly Bear Network and Zilo Networks-are making aggressive moves on territory controlled by CTN Media's College Television Network. The upstarts offer a combination of edgy, offbeat TV programming closely integrated with Internet offerings and on-campus marketing events.
Although CTN dwarfs Burly Bear and Zilo in reach and ratings, the two smaller companies are turning marketers' heads with their hybrid medium that seems to be effective in hooking fickle college students through online and offline channels.
CLAIMS REACH OF 5 MILLION
Burly Bear claims to reach an audience of 5 million; it's carried both on college TV systems and general-market cable systems in college towns via leased cable access. This year the company has drawn new sponsors including Pepsi-Cola Co.'s Mountain Dew, Pepsi-Lipton Tea Partnership's Lipton Brisk iced tea and Sony Pictures Entertainment. Burly Bear adds it's in talks with a variety of marketers in the fast-food and personal-care product categories.
Although it was launched in 1994 and acquired three years later by Lorne Michaels' Broadway Video, Burly Bear remained under the radar until last year when it received a cash infusion from investors and new leadership, including CEO Howard Handler. Mr. Handler previously was senior VP-marketing for the National Football League, and a top marketing executive with MTV before that.
Burly Bear offers 4 hours of original programming each week, developed specifically for college audiences. The content is repeated throughout the week, in late-night slots with about 8 minutes per hour of advertising, Mr. Handler says.
Programs include "Half Baked," an irreverent cooking show; "Sexology," where a panel of students discusses news and opinions on sex; "Press Junky," consisting of celebrity interviews and film reviews; and "Imposter," a hidden-camera-based pranks show.
"Because we're carried on mainstream cable systems in many markets like Tallahassee, thousands more people can watch Burly Bear off-campus," says Mr. Handler, who believes the company may serve as an "incubator" of programming for young adults.
Burly Bear augments its TV programming with related information and entertainment on its Web site (burlybear.com) and also runs an active on-campus events and promotions operation that delivers marketers' messages through entertainment-driven performances and parties.
Mountain Dew executives hired Burly Bear last month to create "Sweet Sixteen" parties at the remaining 16 colleges participating in the countdown to the NCAA's Final Four basketball competition.
"We wanted a quick way to get on campuses in a ground-level way, and Burly Bear rose to the top of the choices we saw as a way to bring our message down to the students' level," says Tyler Ricks, Mountain Dew senior marketing manager.
Burly Bear also takes integrated media right down to the level of product placement, giving sponsors like Lipton on-camera presence in its popular "Half Baked."
ZILO ARRIVES IN FALL
Zilo Networks was launched last fall and has already scored sponsorships from AT&T Wireless, General Motors Corp., Motorola and Net2Phone. The company creates 3 hours of original programming each week, beamed by satellite to college campus TV systems, where it's replayed on late-night rotation.
Its shows include "You Know You Want It," covering updates on pop culture; "Get $tupid," a candid comedy show where people are bribed with cash to perform stupid tricks; and "True Stories," a reality-based show where students tell stories from their dorm rooms.
Zilo runs a Web site (zilo.com) rich in music and entertainment targeting college students and has a "large stake" in a popular comedy Web site (collegehumor.com). The college network also is building an event marketing arm that will host the first-ever Extreme Team College Games this year, says co-founder-CEO David Isaacs. The goal, he explains, is to give marketers diverse ways to reach college students, who are hard to capture through any single medium.
"Zilo creates truly unique, high-impact, original entertainment that college students talk about," Mr. Isaacs says.
Although Burly Bear and Zilo are making moves on his company's marketplace, CTN Media CEO Jason Elkin brushes off comparisons with the two smaller operations: "We did $77 million in advertising revenue last year, and our `rivals' would be lucky to pull in anything in the single-digit millions."
CTN says it reaches 7 million college students each week through its closed-circuit programming delivered by satellite to thousands of TV monitors in public zones at 150 U.S. colleges and universities.
To develop its programming, CTN uses footage from various AOL Time Warner-owned Turner Broadcasting Co. cable TV networks, including CNN and CNNsi, repackaged for a college audience. Sponsors include Best Buy Co., M&M/Mars and Volkswagen of America.
"We recut everything we get with young, compelling anchors and deliver programming tailored for the college audience," Mr. Elkin says.
Media buyers say the new offerings are potent channels for reaching college students, but both Burly Bear and Zilo are still somewhat unknown, even on campuses.
"CTN has pretty good awareness, and it's effective for certain buys," says Eric Geiger, a media supervisor at Interpublic Group of Cos.' McCann-Erickson Worldwide, Los Angeles. Mr. Geiger has placed Sony Pictures advertising on Burly Bear. "We're excited about companies like Burly Bear and Zilo because they offer some truly new, breakthrough programming and the chance to do some guerrilla marketing on campuses. They're both very competitive. A network like Burly Bear has great potential, but it needs to raise its profile more."