Nike Stages a Takeover of Fuel TV for 6.0 Line

Dominating One Outlet Replaces Once-Powerful 'Roadblock' Strategy

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NEW YORK ( -- To promote its 6.0 line of action-sports gear this month, Nike is establishing a major promotional beachhead on Fuel TV, the News Corp.-owned cable outlet geared towards skaters, surfers and bikers. The deal allows the sportswear company to dominate the network for a set period of time.

Nike 6.0 athlete Nigel Sylvester talks with 'The Daily Habit' host Pat Parnell.
Nike 6.0 athlete Nigel Sylvester talks with 'The Daily Habit' host Pat Parnell.
The promotional pact, signed as part of an upfront deal in the third quarter, comes out of a broader partnership between Nike and Fuel, said Peter Vesey, Fuel's VP-ad sales. Viewers of the channel want to see their favorite athletes perform, and while a sponsor may be providing some of the footage, he said, the maneuver represents "a natural extension in the way we program the network."

Throughout July, Fuel will schedule pieces of Nike-sponsored programming and incorporate Nike 6.0 athletes and other content into its shows, which include "The Daily Habit." Nike's sports line and its sponsorships will also be made into part of Fuel's bottom-of-the-screen "show ticker" during certain shows.

Between increased use of digital video recorders and continuing fractionalization of TV audiences, it has become quite clear that it's best to dive into a specific media outlet, rather than spreading promotions thinly across too many of them. At one time, the "roadblock" was an advertiser's greatest weapon. If you could figure out a way to place your commercial across the nation's biggest TV networks so that the ad ran on every channel at about the same time, you could rest assured that half the nation's couch potatoes (and maybe more) would see your message. Better yet, they couldn't escape it.

But "the time has come and gone" for roadblocking, said Mary Price, principal-media at Richards Group, an independent Dallas agency. When TV viewers had fewer options "you had something," she said, "but that's just not the case today."

To fight back, marketers are devising new kinds of roadblocks -- many of them less grand in design and much smaller in scope. Instead, they're trying their hand at TV-network "takeovers," to dominate a particular media outlet that attracts a specific audience.

Direct target on TV
Nike sees few true venues across TV for action-sports aficionados, said a spokeswoman, aside from ESPN's telecast of "X Games" and NBC's broadcast of "Mtn Dew Action Sports Tour" (Nike is a sponsor of the latter). The company's 6.0 line is aimed directly at fans of action sports and youth culture, making Fuel a pretty snug fit because of the audience it reaches. What's more, athletes who make use of Nike's products take part in many events and tournaments, putting Nike in a position to produce and offer content that would best play to the skating and surfing crowds.

Indeed, as part of the promotional deal, Fuel will create segments for air featuring athletes affiliated with Nike 6.0 and Nike will provide Fuel with "The Wake Skate Film," which features athletes wake-skating, a sport that some people liken to trying to skateboard on water. On one Saturday in July, Fuel will air a mini-marathon of its program, "New Pollution," featuring Nike 6.0 athletes. The deal also includes online banner ads and pre- and post-roll ads for podcasts.

The rise of such detailed takeovers could spell the roadblock's demise. In fact, the roadblock has hit a pretty significant speed bump.

One of the first instances of a roadblock was back in 1981, when Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. ran the same ad across each of the big network evening-news programs. The technique appeared to reach its apex in 1992, when Chrysler ran an ad for its Jeep Grand Cherokee at 8:30 p.m. on CBS's "Murder, She Wrote," NBC's "Mann & Machine," ABC's "Sunday Night Movie" and Fox's "Roc," as well as on CNN, ESPN, The Weather Channel and seven other cable outlets. In that same year, AT&T Universal Card, Chef Boyardee beef ravioli and American Airlines also made use of roadblocking.

More recently, however, advertisers have had to use more precision in their approach. After all, with the rise of dozens of cable networks aiming for enthusiast niches -- sports fans, amateur cooks, and video-game players -- it's quite likely that the majority of TV viewers aren't all tuning in at the same time to just watch top broadcast and leading cable outlets. In 2004, for instance, online brokerage Ameritrade Holding struck an interesting deal that made it the only financial-services company advertising between 3:30 p.m. and 4 p.m. EST on news programs airing on CNBC, Bloomberg TV and DirecTV.

While advertisers such as Subway have still found roadblocking effective -- the sandwich chain ran an ad touting its sandwiches as dinner fare between 9 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. on a Sunday in 2006 on the four biggest broadcast networks -- they have also had to choose their media perches more carefully. To hype Universal Pictures' 2005 launch of a new "King Kong" movie, NBC Universal ran a two-and-one-half-minute teaser trailer across nine of its own networks, including NBC, USA and Bravo. Chrysler ran TV ads in 2006 for its new Sebring, but also chose to do a roadblock online, ensuring it would be the only product advertised on Amazon's homepage for a 24-hour period. At the time, Chrysler said it expected to gain 5 million impressions from the effort.

The venerable roadblock is "just never going to be as effective, because the viewing audience is just way too fragmented," said Peter Knobloch, chief executive of RJ Palmer Media Services. "The purpose of the roadblock is to reach as big an audience at one particular time," he added, but to get it right in the modern TV landscape has become "just so overwhelming."

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