Not wanting to be left out of this swelling market of health-conscious consumers, cable TV is tuning in. The National Cable Television Association lists 15 health & fitness-related cable networks in its summer 1999 catalog of cable TV developments. But the two most-talked about health networks are Discovery Health and the Health Network, both 24-hour operations that run the gamut of health programming and news.
FODDER FOR MARKETERS
Both networks see their overall niche programming as fodder for a bevy of marketers looking to reach consumers with specific issues.
"Advertisers want to figure out ways to touch the consumers and get into their lifestyles," says Michael Brochstein, exec VP sales at Health Network.
Health Network, which has ad deals with Aetna U.S. Healthcare, Johnson & Johnson, MotherNature.com, PlanetRx.com and Schering-Plough Corp., among others, formed this year following the merger of Fit TV and America's Health Network. It relaunched in July with 17.5 million subscribers culled from both services.
On debut day, this News Corp. entity made headlines for simulcasting the birth of triplets on the network and at its Internet site. The network sees itself as easy-to-understand health news and lifestyle programming built around "communities" such as women's health, parenting and heart health. Programs include "Bloopy's Buddies," an exercise program for children, and "Jenny's Fit in 15," a diet and exercise show from Jenny Craig.
Competitor Discovery Health bills itself as "connecting viewers to the human experience of health" through programs such as "She-TV," which focuses on nutrition, fitness and parenting, and "Vital Breakthroughs," which spotlights medical news and innovation.
"We think the best way to lure people to the information is to build a story for them," says John Ford, president of Discovery Health Media. "We are less involved in in-studio programming and more out in the world where things happen."
Launched in August, the Discovery Communications-owned network expects to be in 10 million to 15 million homes by the end of the year and is targeting another 5 million or 6 million subscribers next year.
ROOM TO COEXIST
"We don't see ourselves in competition with Discovery," contends Mr. Brochstein. "We think there is room for everybody in this marketplace."
However, a September survey by opinion research company Penn-Schoen & Berland Associates, commissioned by Discovery, found 56% of adults are aware of Discovery Health compared with 28% for Health Network.
One way Health Network is hoping to distinguish itself is by helping marketers reach consumers beyond basic advertising through such programs as in-health news breaks called "Apple a Day." The network garners corporate sponsorship for these interstitials, says Mr. Brochstein. For example, Schering's Dr. Scholl line could sponsor a news break on footcare and Tylenol could sponsor one on headache relief.
"The nice thing about the healthcare [cable] business," says Tom Lom, exec VP and managing director of Saatchi & Saatchi Healthcare, New York, "is that it is very targeted in terms of the health issue you are dealing with and any healthcare advertiser is going to look at a healthcare network and say, `O.K., [advertising here] is something that certainly makes sense.'"
Considering that cable is in 68% of households compared with 59% in 1990, and that cable TV advertising for pharmaceutical prescription products rose 95% for the 12-month period through June 1999, it would seem logical that health networks would be a panacea for direct-to-consumer pharmaceutical ads, but that might not be the case.
Schering-Plough, the top DTC advertiser with $130 million invested in the first half of the year, has a multiyear agreement with Health Network due to a contract it had when the entity was the American Health Network.
However, the drugmaker was a bit vague discussing whether or not health cable networks could be a potential windfall for hawking its products.
"Our objective with all of our advertising is to reach consumers who are either current users or potential users of our products with the added opportunities of gaining health information, whether it be on the Internet or cable or specific programs on television networks," says Jim Lawenda, associate director of agency coordination and print and broadcast purchasing at Schering-Plough.
NICHE NOT FAIL-SAFE
Just because a cable network has a niche tied up is no reason to assume marketers of related products will clamor to advertise, says Mr. Lom.
"Cable is notorious for having difficulties being able to go to advertisers with good, solid, reliable data quantifying the audiences," he says. "And we've learned as healthcare marketers that healthcare programming is nice but is not necessarily a needed environment.
"Look at the DTC advertising for prescription drugs and you see those messages in all sorts of magazines and television programming that's not health-specific."
Both Discovery Health and The Health Network acknowledge that they cannot rely totally on health-specific marketers.
"We are aggressively pursuing other health-related categories such as food, insurance, financial services and packaged goods. Cereal is a major category," says Mr. Ford.