CRN CARVING NEW INFO AD-SHOW NICHE

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Long-form advertising makes up the programming on Consumer Resource Network, but Joe O'Donnell rejects the term "infomercial."

That's because CRN is positioning its programming as informational rather than traditional infomercial hard-sell, and is aiming for "major, respected marketers of complex products and services," said Mr. O'Donnell, the former J. Walter Thompson Co. chairman who's now the managing partner-CEO of CRN.

Ford Motor Co., Schering-Plough Pharmaceuticals and State Farm Insurance Cos. have signed up with the network and will initially get category exclusivity as CRN begins its national rollout in January after a three-market test (AA, Nov. 27).

CRN plans to operate a minimum 6 hours a day on cable systems reaching 3 million homes beginning Jan. 1, based on a deal it has struck with Product Information Network. By Oct. 1, CRN's presence will expand to at least 12 hours a day and 6 million households, including the Chicago, Los Angeles, Washington, Cleveland, San Francisco, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, New Orleans, Tampa, Fla., and Buffalo, N.Y., markets.

Englewood, Colo.-based PIN already runs infomercials on cable systems owned by its parents, Jones International and Cox Communications, as well as on some systems operated by Tele-Communications Inc., Coaxial Cable, Comcast, Adelphia and others. PIN will sell time blocks of its cable system access to CRN.

Mr. O'Donnell said CRN provides marketers a venue to address complicated issues without being interruptive to regular programming. "American marketers have always had to get their messages into the home as the tail on the dog," Mr. O'Donnell said.

Ford, Schering-Plough and State Farm were involved in CRN's tests in Knoxville, Tenn.; Colorado Springs, Colo.; and Fairfax County, Va. They ran 30- and 60-minute programs on subjects such as understanding life insurance, the merits of leasing vs. buying a car and how to allergy-proof a home. Programming includes an 800-number for consumers to get follow-up information.

Mr. O'Donnell said the network also is targeting computers, consumer electronics, financial services, homecare and the health and beauty industries. CRN also will run public service programming from the Advertising Council and the Environmental Defense Fund.

CRN President-Chief Operating Officer Dick Marcy said one way his company distinguishes itself from traditional infomercial programming is by setting up a programming schedule, which is mailed monthly to cable subscribers. CRN also promotes itself through promotional messages on its own channel and other channels on the cable system. Individual marketers also promote their programming to customers.

CRN's parent is the Seventh Medium, a joint venture between Bloomfield Hills, Mich., marketing consultancy Visual Services and Mr. O'Donnell.

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