A week after premiering "Sports Kids Moms & Dads," the latest in a franchise that also included "Showbiz Moms & Dads" and "Showdog Moms & Dads," it will launch extra, original Webisodes-complete with a unique storyline-on Bravotv.com. And it's banking on enough of an audience to sell advertising in the online version.
"The really devoted fans always want more," says Jason Klarman, senior VP-marketing at the NBC Universal cable network. "And that's great for advertisers because there's a lot of stickiness with that. They can take their message from the 30-second spot to something that's directly actionable on the Web."
`HIP TIPS' PODCASTS
Bravo, which is also offering sponsorable podcasts of Fab Five "hip tips" when "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" enters its next season, is just one cable network that's extending its brands to reach viewers in unconventional ways. Whether a cable network uses its own Web site or online portals such as America Online and Yahoo-both of which are partnering with content creators to bulk up on video content-linking a linear network and a Web property seems like a marriage made in heaven. But the Web is just the honeymoon destination. Some cable networks have ventured further, creating a shared equity with other established brands or launching their own forays into other categories.
Viacom has been busy in this area. Its MTV2 has launched a $2 Bill Concert Series, offering $2 tickets to live shows by such artists as the Beastie Boys and The Foo Fighters and then airing the events on the network, which was recently re-branded and re-launched. Meanwhile, Nickelodeon opened the doors to Nickelodeon Family Suites by Holiday Inn, its partnership with Holiday Inn, in Orlando over Memorial Day weekend. It's an ambitious project for the network, a veteran at extending itself into other arenas. Through brand extensions, Nickelodeon has built itself into a $4.7 billion licensing empire. It produces multiple live events every year featuring Nick shows "Blue's Clues" and "SpongeBob SquarePants," and is one of the latest content providers to supply programming to Verizon's V Cast service, wireless access to an inventory of select TV programming.
"It's not so much about how they increase ratings or buzz as much as it's about the experience for the fan of the show or network," says Stacey Lynn Koerner, exec VP-director of global research integration at Interpublic Group of Cos.' Initiative, New York. The more engaged a consumer is with a medium, the more likely they are to recall the advertising, Ms. Koerner says. But, she notes, once an advertiser has found that, the job is only half done. "The most critical piece is in knowing how to connect with that engaged audience," she says. "And you do it not only in the show but also in all of these emerging touch points."
Hallmark Channel is another example of how a brand that's extended itself across multiple media uses that leverage to attract ad dollars, regularly using its 4,200 stores and subscription-based Hallmark Magazine to offer advertisers vertical integrations. It considers that 360-degree brand experience-online, on-air, in store and on the newsstand-a distinct point of difference when it comes to off-channel extensions.
But what kinds of brand extensions work, and how is one to know what works and what won't work? For example, why do tourists queue up around the block to get into the ESPN SportsZone in New York's Times Square compared with the foot traffic in the Chicago outlet?
Those aren't easy questions, says Tom Thornton, VP-director of marketing for Young & Rubicam's BrandAsset Valuator, which polls thousands of consumers quarterly to measure their perceptions of brands, including cable brands. The top cable brands as measured by BrandAsset Valuator include ESPN, Discovery Channel, Weather Channel, Disney Channel and TNT.
"It's all about brand elasticity," he says. "Can a brand play in a different product?" There are two components to consider: One, is the extension logical, and two, can it deliver on the brand's promise?
"You look at a brand like ESPN and you think, what words are they associated with-aggressive, competitive, social," he says. "That lends itself to something like ESPN Sports-Zone, which is a bar, an exciting, communal atmosphere."
And sometimes, results of a seemingly good extension simply surprise. Showtime's dual-platform premiere on Yahoo and the linear channel of its much-hyped "Fat Actress," for example, was initially deemed successful. In fact, according to an Initiative study, the Yahoo effort produced 16% of the total Showtime audience delivery on the pilot. (The linear network snared a 0.62 rating for the premiere episode and 942,000 viewers and Yahoo attracted another 150,000.)
Yet a week later, the show lost nearly 70% of its audience, proving ultimately, no matter how innovative or interesting the brand exposure, if the original product can't stand on its own, there's not much the extra exposure can do to help.
"An extension can do damage if it doesn't deliver on the brand's promise," Mr. Thornton says. "But if it's engaging and captivating, that's great and you're getting people to spend more time with your brand."
Top CABLE BRANDS
A&E, Disney Channel, Discovery Channel, ESPN, Fox News, HBO, History Channel, Learning Channel, TNT, Weather Channel
Source: BrandAsset Valuator