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FIGHT FOR CARRIAGE GOES PUBLIC: NETWORKS USING ADS TO CREATE GRASS-ROOTS VIEWERSHIP SUPPORT.

By Published on .

As if multiple systems operators didn't get enough phone calls about poor service and high rates, a number of cable networks are trying to get viewers ringing up to demand channel access.

Although new networks often have resorted to premium per-subscriber rates to get carriage, they have been using an increasing amount of cross-promotion-and even outside media buys-as additional leverage to boost their household numbers.

"As a new service, our No. 1 goal has to be to get our product out in front of the consumer," says Steve Miller, VP-advertising & promotion for MSNBC, launched last summer behind a blitzkrieg of advertising, cross-promotion and publicity.

Mr. Miller describes the ad campaign as "a combination of traditional vehicles and also some targeted to folks interested in technology." It included TV and radio spots, retail promotions, a print buy in computer books and some outdoor. Mr. Miller declined to reveal the budget.

Creative is handled in-house; Highway One, New York, buys print, and Horizon Media, New York, buys cable and spot radio.

LAUNCH RECORD

Whether or not it proves a long-term success has yet to be seen; MSNBC won't have ratings until January at the earliest. However, the network set a record for number of households at launch and is currently in 25 million homes, a number Mr. Miller says will more than double by 2000 and something he believes can be at least partly credited to the extensive marketing budget.

For a startup without the bankroll of a Microsoft or NBC, though, barter and cross-promotion can help level the field.

As CNN/SI prepares for its debut this month, Rick Salcedo, senior VP-marketing & creative services for CNN, says that while the network "does not have a lot of money to spend, we are trying to create some arrangements where we can get some exposure" through barter deals, a limited spot radio buy and extensive cross-promotion on CNN sister channels and its World Wide Web site, as well as in partner magazine Sports Illustrated.

"One of our strongest selling points is the powerhouse combination of these two brands," Mr. Salcedo says. "We are up against some quality opponents [in the fight for carriage] and in some cases the deals they are making with some of the distributors are pretty enticing."

Mr. Salcedo notes that CNN/SI has only limited access to its sister outlets' inventories.

"However, it is certainly very valuable," he says. "So many things go into gaining carriage but clearly, this is a key component."

CNN/SI has supplemented its cross-promotional approach with spot radio buys in "seven markets where we feel we have a good shot at gaining carriage."

In addition, the channel worked out a barter deal with the One-on-One Sports Radio Network and plans some outdoor at major sports events, such as the Super Bowl.

Later on, Mr. Salcedo says, CNN/SI hopes to do some newspaper ads, following in the footsteps of CNNfn, which ran a limited schedule in USA Today at launch.

MUCH-PUBLICIZED EFFORT

For most cable startups, the bulk of the marketing dollars still goes into trade marketing, whether by direct payments to MSOs or ad schedules in industry journals. Consumers rarely hear about these efforts-and even less frequently care about them.

In one recent case, however, the much-publicized effort of Fox News Channel to get onto the Time Warner-owned cable systemin New York, the backroom negotiations have spilled over into a display of public acrimony between the players.

Having thus far failed through political and legal pressure to get carriage in the nation's major media market, Fox has taken its marketing campaign to the people.

A series of ads in New York newspapers are designed "as a way to connect directly with the public about the issues as we see them," explains Bill Squadron, senior VP of Fox parent News Corp.

The ads, from Coyne Beahm, Colfax, N.C., accuse Time Warner of censorship, abuse of monopoly and failure to live up to a previous agreement to carry the channel. The ads also claim Ted Turner is afraid of competition for CNN and that he has a "personal vendetta" against News Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch.

Mr. Turner has been quoted as calling Mr. Murdoch "slimy" and "a disgrace to journalism." The Fox News Channel ads label those remarks-and one in which Mr. Turner supposedly likened Mr. Murdoch to Adolf Hitler-"vile and offensive."

"We are doing a number of things designed to make Time Warner honor their commitment to carry Fox News Channel," Mr. Squadron says.

Rebuffed by both Time Warner and the courts, Fox has decided to encourage people to attend Time Warner's franchise renewal hearings.

"We believe that people don't want their cable operator deciding which news service they see," explains Mr. Squadron. "We want to let them know that there is a platform for them to communicate those views."

JOE MANNIX'S REQUEST

Sensing opportunity in the middle of this shouting match, Nick at Nite's TV Land, launched in April, has jumped into the fray with a campaign of its own.

"New York already has nine all-news channels," explains Rich Cronin, president of Nick at Nite's TV Land. The network tagged print ads, created in-house and placed by TBWA Chiat/Day, New York, in The New York Times, New York Daily News and New York Post with a toll-free number asking viewers to call in and say, "Take me to TV Land." According to Mr. Cronin, the campaign logged 55,000 calls in the first week.

The network also ran one print ad, done in-house, in the form of an open letter to Mayor Rudy Giuliani from '70s TV detective Joe Mannix, portrayed by actor Mike Connors. The letter is also "signed" by a host of other retro TV characters, from Colonel Wilhelm Klink to Mr. and Mrs. Gomez Addams.

There are more than 30 networks vying for scarce channel space in Manhattan, Mr. Cronin says.

While the campaign hasn't brought TV Land a slot yet, Mr. Cronin says, "I think it moved us up for when channel space opens up here."

TV Land's New York efforts are a small part of a campaign for national carriage that has included ads in TV Guide, People, newspaper TV listings, spot TV and radio, and extensive cross-promotion on sister networks Nickelodeon, Nick at Nite, MTV, VH-1 and Comedy Central. They all carry the tagline "Take me to TV Land" and encourage people to call their cable operators.

TV Land launched in almost 8 million homes, Mr. Cronin says, "and we are on target" for between 12 million and 15 million by yearend.

He credits TV Land's initial carriage success in part, at least, to "the fact that we have been able to get those phones ringing off the hook."

RETAINING CARRIAGE

For at least one established cable network, a consumer campaign helped retain carriage.

Although Lifetime Television maintains an ongoing consumer ad campaign, the network used advertising in response to a September decision by Tele-Communications Inc. to replace the channel in systems serving up to 1 million households with Fox News Channel.

Lifetime's breast cancer awareness program-prominently featured in some ad campaigns-was one factor that helped them enlist the aid of the Council of Presidents, an umbrella organization of 100 women's groups, to pressure TCI to retain the channel.

Ultimately, Lifetime cut its losses to about 300,000 households as a result. Lifetime is currently in 66 million households nationwide.

The network's ongoing $12 million-to-$15 million "Television for women" campaign, created in-house and placed by CPM, Chicago, runs in magazines and in newspapers, radio, outdoor and TV in select markets.

Doug McCormick, president-CEO of Lifetime, says his network's consumer campaign is geared toward "improving our relationship with our end customer-the viewer. Implicit in carriage promises is audience satisfaction [and that] ensures carriage irrespective of contractual rights."

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