My Network TV Retools Marketing, Programming

Seeks to Boost Lackluster Ratings

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NEW YORK ( -- After a lackluster start, My Network TV, News Corp.'s experiment at creating a different kind of broadcast network, is tweaking its programming, ramping up marketing and tapping digital media to encourage sampling of its shows in order to boost ratings and attract more ad dollars.
Dayanara Torres, Miss Universe 1993, is one of the stars of My Network TV's next telenovela, 'Watch Over Me.'
Dayanara Torres, Miss Universe 1993, is one of the stars of My Network TV's next telenovela, 'Watch Over Me.' Credit: AP

The network has struggled to attract an audience to its "telenovela" programming -- a soap-opera format wildly popular on Spanish-language TV -- because of the strength of its rival broadcast networks' new fall lineups and a crop of major sporting events including the baseball postseason series.

Two shows featured
Launched Sept. 5 by Fox TV Stations Group and Twentieth Television, My Network TV airs two shows, "Desire" and the Bo Derek vehicle "Fashion House," that run five days a week for 13 weeks apiece. To date, the shows average 439,000 viewers in the 18- to 49-year-old demographic and a 0.3 rating/1 share. The total number of nightly viewers adds up to 910,000, according to live-plus-same-day figures provided by Nielsen Media Research through Oct. 15. Those ratings are more akin to a second-tier cable network, and well behind even the other newbie broadcast network, the CW. "Desire" and "Fashion House" will be replaced in December with two new telenovelas, "Watch Over Me" and "Wicked, Wicked Games."

Even My Network TV executives admit they're not where they thought they'd be.

Bob Cook, president of Twentieth Television and one of the main executives in charge of the new network, indicated that the racy dramas might be toned down slightly in response to focus-group comments.

Immediate response
"One thing that's different from other networks, we've tried to be immediately responsive. As soon as we get our first footage, we're testing it with 500 women," Mr. Cook said. The network tests with two all-female focus groups in New York and Miami. "We could respond if they say there's too much of that and too little of this, we would edit it and change it," said Mr. Cook, adding that the feedback from women primarily was: "We don't need the graphic scenes, we need the romance."

Nonetheless, Mr. Cook defended the content, saying the network wasn't any racier than anything on a daytime soap. But media buyers had cited content issues as a reason they hadn't committed more dollars to the News Corp. property.

While My Network TV is just 6 weeks old, it is already under the watchful eye of the decency police. On Oct. 12, the advocacy group the Parents' Television Council encouraged members to write to the Federal Communications Commission to complain about the use of the "s-word" on an episode of "Desire." Mr. Cook said the network is still looking into the matter.

Focus groups also said they didn't mind being introduced to new stories and new characters after a few months, because that's what they have come to expect with each new cycle of reality shows. While that's good news for the network's focus, the bad news is the target audience doesn't seem to be aware of the programming.

Content ready to download
To increase awareness, My Network TV has been working with Fox Interactive Media to establish a program-download offering at The website already carries short program recaps, such as the ones that appear at the beginning of every show, and within the next few weeks it will also offer the one-hour recaps of the week's drama the network airs on Saturday nights. It isn't being offered to advertisers immediately.

My Network TV is also hoping a renewed marketing push will help it attract bigger audiences. Over the course of the next three months, My Network TV will promote itself in 5,000 supermarkets as part of a deal through sibling unit News America, which specializes in newspaper and in-store promotion. My Network TV is also buying additional billboards in select markets, including Atlanta, Cincinnati, Los Angeles, New York, Philadelphia and Portland, Ore. The network also has a TV Guide initiative under way that will promote its programming in the magazine as well as on the company's cable network.

The telenovelas are produced for around $200,000 an episode, and with fresh programming five nights a week, production costs for the network come in at around $2 million a week. So the pressure is on to increase the audience and to attract more advertisers.

Commenting on ad sales, which were reported to have come in around $25 million during the upfront, Mr. Cook said: "Anytime you're the little guy, [advertisers] want to wait and see. We've gotten business from just about every advertiser, though."

Price cuts
One media buyer, who wished to remain unnamed, said My Network TV had offered to cut prices to whatever level would get the clients in the door. According to Advertising Age's own pricing data, the network is charging between $20,000, to $35,000 for a 30-second spot. The buyer said the offer had been below the $20,000 level.

However, other agencies have voiced support. Andy Donchin, director national broadcast, Carat, last week said: "We have three clients on it. We did buy it. We want to give them a chance. It's a tough go right now with the baseball, but Fox has a great record and we're going to stick with it for a while. We don't want to make too rash a judgment."
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