Bravo steps up to big leagues

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This year is only the second time at bat in the upfront market for Bravo Network, but it seems to be ahead of the game.

Last year, in the network's first full year of advertising, Bravo exceeded its projections by 20%, scoring $22.7 million in ad revenue, according to Kagan & Associates. The consultancy estimates the network will bring in about $39 million in net ad revenues in 2000.

BIG TRANSITION

While that projection pales in comparison to the likes of cable dial competitors such as A&E Network, which last year netted $335.8 million in revenues, consider Bravo just made the transition to a standard commercial format in the fall of 1998.

In addition, Bravo's ratings have grown 46% from first quarter 1999 to first quarter 2000, according to Nielsen Media Research. In the last 18 months, the network has added 12 million households, for a total of 43 million. It expects to reach 50 million homes by 2001.

"We saw an opportunity for a mid-size cable network to become a dominant brand," says Ed Carroll, exec VP-general manager of Bravo, in explaining the decision to become ad-supported. "But the only way to become dominant in a niche was to invest more in original programming."

"Bravo's upfront looked impressive because they're going toward a little more upscale-mainstream [programming]," says Jerry Solomon, president-national broadcast at SFM Media, New York, which placed about $400 million in cable last year for clients, including MCI WorldCom, Intel Corp. and Nasdaq.

Upscale programming has helped Bravo attract blue-chip advertisers since 1998. IBM Corp., American Express Co. and Cisco Systems rank among advertisers wanting to target the channel's attractive demographic, which the network claims is a majority of professionals with household income higher than $60,000.

"We try to focus on those advertisers that make sense for our network and are appropriate for our programming," says Hanna Gryncwajg, VP-ad sales. Bravo recently doubled its sales staff to 10 people with offices in Chicago, Los Angeles and New York.

MULTIPLE STREAMS

Transitioning to ad-supported "becomes a more attractive sale to the advertising community because [a network] can point to the fact that [it has] two revenue streams [fees paid by cable stations and advertising] and can keep cost of advertising at a reasonable level," says Joe Ostrow, president-CEO of the Cabletelevision Advertising Bureau, who points out that Nickelodeon, which made the transition to ad-supported more than 10 years ago, has been a "smashing success."

Leaning on such successful programming as "Inside the Actors Studio" and "Bravo Profiles," which have been popular with advertisers, Bravo this upfront presented two new series for next season: "Influences" and "Aria & Pasta." "Influences," produced with the Museum of Television & Radio, will be hosted by Alan Alda. "Aria & Pasta," to debut in November, showcases opera stars cooking dinner and sharing their stories.

Bravo is also resurrecting Michael Moore's "The Awful Truth" with 12 new original episodes as part of its "Counter Culture Wednesdays" programming, which is the "edgier side of Bravo," says Mr. Carroll.

"You can reach a selective demographic with Bravo, but it is still probably to be bought in conjunction with more mature networks. But, there's tremendous up-side potential to them."

As part of its growth strategy, Bravo last summer tapped Grey Advertising's Grey Entertainment, New York, to create its first-ever consumer campaign. Taglined "Not your everyday . . . every day on Bravo," the $10 million print and cable effort ran in Bravo's top 20 markets. Publicis' Optimedia, New York, handles media buying..

"With five consecutive quarters of [viewership] growth, we know the campaign is working," says Caroline Bock, senior VP-marketing for Bravo. "Grey has brought a smart humor to the table. We're saying there's something different on Bravo. We're not taking art so seriously, so elitist."

LOW LEVEL OF AD TIME

The network also allows eight minutes of national ad time, which is a comparatively low level of clutter. But more importantly, it allows for two minutes of local ad sales, which helps to grow the subscriber base because local cable operators are more likely to carry the channel since they get to keep the revenue from local ad sales.

"It takes a while for advertisers on the local side to start taking advantage of this, but it's definitely coming of age," says Ms. Gryncwajg.

"Is Bravo top of mind? No. Do they have a ways to go? Yes," says Andy Donchin, director-national broadcast & buying, Carat North America, New York, who has placed clients, including Pfizer and Radio Shack, on the network. "But [it has] a great story to tell. A great demographic. Lots of original, engaging programming. Overall, [it's] becoming a real network."

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