CTN graduating to profitability

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CTN Media Group has finally outgrown its awkward stage, becoming a media force in targeting young adults.

After eight years, the college-focused media marketer is poised to finally turn a profit in the fourth quarter. According to CTN, the company will bring in about $75 million in revenue this year, up from $3 million just three years ago. For the six months ended June 30, its revenue was $31.5 million, up 525% vs. the same period 1999.

The jump follows an overhaul at the company, which went from Laser Video Network, a music video jukebox installer on campuses in the early '90s, to an entity that hones in on millions of college students through its College Television Network, youth-oriented magazine Link and several Web sites. The multimedia company was renamed last year following the acquisition of several new properties, including media placement agency Market Place Media.

DRAMATIC GROWTH

"We've undergone dramatic growth since 1997 with our chairman [and CEO] Jason Elkin," said Martin Grant, CTN Media president-chief operating officer. "We've increased the size of our network--launching several Internet sites and acquiring Market Place Media last year--and established new locations across the country."

CTN Media provides advertisers an outlet to reach free-spending college students at a critical moment in their lives--when they develop brand preferences. The company takes direct aim at 18- to 24-year olds through its 24-hour satellite TV programming. College Television Network airs in cafeterias, gyms and lounges at more than 1,800 college and university campuses. According to CTN Media and Nielsen Media Research, the channel reaches 1.5 million students daily. The programming features short segment news, features, sports and a bevy of music videos.

Ann Brown, CTN Media senior VP-marketing, said their format allows the company to run more music videos than MTV.

Eighteen marketers, including Volkswagen of America, Best Buy Co., America Online and M&M/Mars signed on to advertise on College Television Network's fall 2000 schedule. Each broadcast hour will run about 8 minutes of advertising. Ad packages are tailored to marketer specifications, with many options available. For example, Best Buy advertises on multiple properties such as CTN Media's magazine and Web sites, while M&M/Mars advertises only on the broadcast network.

"College students are a notoriously difficult demographic to reach," said Julie Engel, senior VP-Best Buy Advertising, the company's in-house ad agency. "We are exploring how CTN performs in reaching this elusive but highly important and valuable audience for Best Buy." Best Buy will run 12 ads--targeted at the youth market--daily through December.

CONTENT-SPECIFIC DEALS

In addition, marketers can also create content-specific deals. Volkswagen, for example, extends its national sponsorship of a Barenaked Ladies concert tour with a customized program on the College Television Network.

Michael Napoliello, president of U.S. Marketing & Promotions, a college marketing specialist, said "College students are especially hard to reach because their time is very critical. This fact doesn't change just because the media is more pervasive and present in the dining hall or dorm room lobby. Ultimately, a better way to reach the market will be events integral to the lifestyle of college kids." He added that it's hard to measure the impact of services like CTN. "Place-based media is difficult to audit because it's hard to keep track of who's paying attention. These types of media, however, do help leverage events or college tours like CTN is doing, but are probably less effective as a stand-alone product."

In the last several years, CTN Media has worked to improve its content. This year alone, the company struck a deal in which CNN will exclusively produce news and sports segments for the channel. CTN Media also signed on Lisa Ling of ABC's "The View" to be the channel's political correspondent for the upcoming presidential election. In addition, the company inked a deal with EMAP USA and NBC to air the EMAP/NBC-created extreme sports competition, Gravity Games, through October.

Moreover, CTN Media hosts original events and programming, such as Bill Maher's live college-campus tour version of "Politically Incorrect." The highlights from the Syracuse University stop will be shown exclusively on College Television Network. CTN Media executives say their live events serve two purposes: to extend the brand on campus, as well as create compelling on-air content.

CTN Media's TV broadcast crosscuts into the company's print magazine as well. The upcoming holiday issue of Link magazine will feature Mr. Maher on the cover. "This demographic has great buying power, but the readers are also very cynical, and very smart," said Link Editor in Chief Jana Martin. "We don't force-feed content, and it really shows."

TOP COLLEGE PUBLICATION

Linkis published six times a year, with the next issue hitting campuses in early November. The issue is distributed into the mailboxes of students nationwide. According to Student Monitor, the largest syndicated researcher for the college market, Link is the No. 1 college publication in the country. Its circulation is 1 million per issue, according to Audit Bureau of Circulations data, with a total readership of 3 million per issue.

The revamped CTN Media enters a market as hot as a top-floor dorm room in May. Companies such as College Broadcast, Burly Bear Network and Zilo all provide on-campus, multimedia content for students. Burly Bear, a closed-circuit TV service delivered to dorm rooms via cable, specializes in humorous and quirky programming, and reaches about 564 colleges on a weekly basis. Its advertisers include Cliff Notes, Nintendo, Paramount Pictures and Men's Health.

Zilo implements three tech-savvy platforms to attract the college market. According to the Zilo president and co-founder, Campbell McLaren, the company "singularly combines high-speed Internet broadband programming with original events and entertainment" through its Web site (zilo.com), Zilo TV and Zilo Live. Soft-launched in October 1999 as a beta test site, Zilo.com relaunched two weeks ago; Zilo TV is beginning its sixth week of programming at 93 schools nationwide.

The company is also preparing to launch an ad campaign on cable TV from Dweck!, New York. "Most college students aren't watching TV until after 11 p.m., but we're working to capture the market when they are," Mr. McLaren said. "Our new ad campaign--with a robot named Terry--capitalizes on our humor and the fun way in which we give students a voice."

Although CTN Media faces competition from other college-oriented networks, as well as mainstream magazines and TV programming, CTN's Mr. Grant feels they stand out for the college crowd. "We're providing a level of sophistication in media networks that is a step above," he said. "There is really no competitor on the whole that combines the assets we do in the way that we do."

Copyright October 2000, Crain Communications Inc.

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