Four years later, Disney-owned ABC is back in the No. 1 position in the ratings due, in part, to some creative marketing strategies and popular prime-time quiz show "Who Wants to be a Millionaire"
"It's important to have an identity," says Mr. Cohen, who was appointed last fall to exec VP-marketing for ABC Entertainment Group. The promotion put him in charge of advertising, on-air promotion, marketing, branding, graphic design and media support.
In his position Mr. Cohen oversees on-air promos for ABC-TV. Recent "Dharma & Greg" and "NYPD Blue" promos place golden boy "Millionaire" host Regis Philbin in spoofs with those shows' stars. Mr. Cohen further milked a good thing, scripting "Millionaire" into an episode of "Spin City," when character Paul, played by actor Richard Kind, appeared on the quiz show as a contestant.
With all the network is up to, some ABC viewers may be shouting "We love TV," just as the network's 1999 marketing campaign is trying to tell them.
"We really tried to decide what we are going to be and who we would attract," Mr. Cohen says of his marketing challenge. "We had the broader reach [and] the biggest collection of diverse shows" compared to some other networks.
For example, ABC's line-up on Fridays features shows that appeal to kids, including "Sabrina, the Teenage Witch," "The Hughleys" and "Boy Meets World." While "Monday Night Football" draws a primarily male audience and "Once and Again" pulls in female viewers, comedies such as "It's Like You Know" and "Norm" target all viewers. .
"Millionaire," however, is the glue that entranced viewers.
"Millionaire's" audience swelled 130% among adults aged 18-49 and 122% among all viewers, when comparing its Aug. 16 debut with its Aug. 29 finale, according to ABC studies of Nielsen Media Research data. And overall, ABC viewing averages climbed 103% among young adults during the summer weeks the initial 13 episodes aired. This year, during the week of Jan. 17, ABC shared the ratings leadership with NBC and CBS, and on Jan. 24, with a total viewer increase of 5%, ABC took the lead with 13.7 million viewers on average. According to Nielsen data, this was the first time the network had won two consecutive weeks of household ratings among total viewers since 1996.
The network successfully promoted "Millionaire" in time slots filled with medical dramas and tales of teen angst.
Mr. Cohen's branding campaign for the show proclaimed, "America's newest stars are made three nights a week." The decision to air the wildly popular show three nights was made by Stu Bloomberg and Lloyd Braun, co-chairmen of ABC Entertainment Group.
More than 21.9 million "Millionaire" viewers tuned in Nov. 19 to root for John Carpenter, the first contestant to win $1 million. Soon after his win, Mr. Carpenter graced the cover of People and appeared on "The Late Show With David Letterman," providing more publicity for the show.
"Millionaire," pulled in 35.4 million viewers Jan. 25, numbers not seen by any other ABC show since the early 1980s during an episode of "The Fall Guy," ABC claims.
ABC must be doing something right with "Millionaire" because it has triggered a TV trend. CBS, NBC and Fox now have prime-time game shows, first popularized in the '50s.
The key to successful marketing, says Mr. Cohen, is to be "more creative than the other guy, more aggressive and spend more money."
ABC produces about 8,000 promotional spots every year. One dramatic b&w TV promo for "Once and Again," which stars Sela Ward, features the show's characters discussing the show. The promo is the work of ABC's in-house ad department headed by Michael Benson, senior VP-advertising and promotions. Other promotion work is handled by Pittard-Sullivan, Los Angeles. TBWA/Chiat Day, Los Angeles, handles advertising creative.
"Most show promos feature the stars and they come out and play with the logo, or bonk each other over the head with the logo," says Mr. Benson. "[With our promos], it was important that viewers didn't feel like they were watching CBS and NBC. Our approach with the music, tone, voice and photographic style was what I refer to as anti-television."
The network also beefed up the number of TV show promos running on affiliates.
To promote the twentysomething drama "Wasteland," viral marketing efforts were used. The visual promotion embedded simple words in the sand along beaches: "Watch Thursday on ABC."
Other viral marketing strategies featured street vendor and coffee shop cups imprinted with such TV show logos as "Spin City" and "The Practice." There also were fruit stickers on bananas reminding viewers to watch "20/20." Ads were placed on street vendor umbrellas, bar glasses and bus-stop benches and shelters.
Mr. Cohen says whisper campaigns are used to generate buzz about new projects by using publicity stunts or online chats on ABC.com, where fans have the chance to ask stars their questions.
Keeping in mind that people watch programs, not networks, Mr. Cohen created several tie-ins to draw viewers. For example, as a part of its March 1 "Winning Wednesday" campaign, viewers who watched "The Drew Carey Show" were able to win a chance to bowl with Mr. Carey, courtesy of Dr Pepper. Also, viewers who stayed tuned to "Norm" had the chance to win a trip to the "Academy Awards" red carpet arrival ceremony, courtesy of General Motors Corp.'s Chevrolet.
NEW BRANDING EFFORTS
ABC has revamped its branding efforts. Barry Goodman, VP-exec producer, marketing, helped navigate TV viewers through programs using "what's next" lists of upcoming shows, network IDs ("You are watching ABC") and bumpers, or elements between shows, that include b&w still photography capturing the network's stars.
"We were very unique in how we did it," says Mr. Goodman. "The style was nontraditional."
Mr. Cohen has built a new marketing organization, all the way to last summer's change from American Broadcasting Co. to America's Broadcasting Company in logos and ads. It was a small move designed to make the network appear "more accessible and warmer to our audiences," he says.
Giving a network a personality in a competitive industry that includes cable and the Internet is an extraordinary job, notes Mr. Cohen.
"When I think of how many different things divide the course of the day that I get involved in -- 400 issues a day, between both creative and business side -- it's an amazing pace."