ABC bets November sweeps pot on Beatles

By Published on .

Most Popular

After 25 years, the Beatles are back, and so, it is hoped, will be Beatlemania.

It will begin this fall when ABC turns over its entire November sweeps marketing effort to hyping the network's three-night, prime-time adaptation of a 10-hour, video retrospective of the Fab Four.

The network is even toying with somehow recasting the ABC on-air logo into an acronym for "A Beatles Channel."

This is just the beginning of a worldwide media and marketing blitz supporting what Advertising Age has learned will be a massive release in the next year of previously unreleased Beatles recordings, videos and multimedia products.

"What we have here, is the Beatles as an industry," said an executive familiar with the marketing strategy being developed by Capitol Records.

"There's one key marketing issue that must come across for this to be successful," said the executive, "and it is that this material will be something that the consumer has not seen, or heard before from the Beatles."

Bruce Kirkland, exec VP of Capitol, the U.S. marketing arm of EMI, which owns the Beatles' Apple Records, said specifics on the products and the marketing plans are still being developed. But he confirmed it will involve "a variety of standalone products" being culled from the Beatles' own massive archiving effort. For example, the 10-hour video retrospective was created from and embellished by a first-person narrative from the three surviving Beatles, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr and George Harrison.

The ABC special will also be the U.S. premiere of "Free as a Bird" and "Real Love," two new songs recorded with the voices of all four Beatles that were adapted from unreleased John Lennon tracks.

Capitol is working closely with its media agency DDB Needham Worldwide, New York, and ABC's agency Grey Entertainment to coordinate a marketing strategy that will complement each company's media initiatives.

While the creative strategy has not been set, Capitol's Mr. Kirkland said the media strategy is fairly straightforward: "Obviously, there will be the massive media exposure of their on-air effort and just when their campaign is ending, ours will be starting."

He said the two companies are collaborating on a variety of alternative media, including fly-bys of football stadiums, extensive retail media, including in-store video monitors, Screenvision's movie theater network, bus shelters, wild-postings and a few surprises.

In essence, Capitol and EMI are looking at the ABC TV presentation as the equivalent of a theatrical motion picture premiere that will kick off an extensive merchandising sales effort.

To help craft the strategy, Capitol hired Steve Chamberlain, former exec VP of Turner Home Entertainment, to serve as its Beatles brand manager.

"What we are doing, in essence, is managing the Beatles as Coca-Cola manages Diet Coke," said Mr. Chamberlain, 40, who describes himself as a "Beatles groupie."

Mr. Chamberlain said one of the key challenges is to be sensitive to the Beatles' sense of integrity and he said the Beatles management and occasionally the former band members themselves, would be directly involved in the decision-making of the campaign.

As for whether the Beatles would actually lend themselves publicly to the effort, Mr. Chamberlain said that had not yet been determined. But at least ABC plans to use footage from the retrospective in its promotional spots.

"I don't think there is anyone that comes as close as being as marketable as they are," said Robert Iger, president of Capital Cities/ABC, who personally championed ABC acquisition of the TV rights.

Mr. Iger, who describes himself as a "major Beatles fan," said the network is also working closely with Apple on the event and that "their cooperation in terms of the promotion and marketing of this will be quite evident. But I can't say anything more."

Mr. Iger declined to discuss specifics of the deal, but ABC is believed to have paid $15 million to $20 million for the U.S. TV rights to the event. The network expects to more than recoup that sum, selling spots for upwards of $300,000 each, which should generate nearly $15 million in network ad sales, not including revenues to its local stations.

ABC also is believed to be involved in the international sales of the event to overseas markets.

Apple, which retains rights to all digital media for the Beatles, is said to be independently developing a variety of interactive media platforms, including a CD-ROM collection, but it is not clear when they might be released. ABC Online, however, plans an extensive content area related to its Beatles push this fall.

Infighting ended the group's collaborative recording efforts in 1970, though formal disbandment didn't come until 1971. Any hope of a full reunion was shattered Dec. 8, 1980, when Mr. Lennon was shot to death outside his New York apartment.

But hope springs eternal for a public reunion of the remaining three members.

"The offers I've heard put on the table to get them to come back together are unprecedented," said Jay Coleman, president of Entertainment Marketing & Communications International, Stamford, Conn. "They've been offered as much as a $100 million guarantee for a short tour of some major markets. The numbers are staggering and they're real offers."

Copyright August 1995, Crain Communications Inc.

In this article: