Web Rush

Aggressive marketers want leverage with cable's loyal viewers, and nets race to make connections

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One-stop shopping. Integrated marketing. Convergence. Call it what you will but as advertisers continue to clamor for online components to their on-air buys, cable networks are moving into digital media in a big way.

In 2006, a bevy of networks are offering podcasts, broadband video, community sites and interactive games as the early leaders in the area-the ESPNs, CNNs, The Weather Channels, MTVs and Scripps-are joined by the Lifetimes, Comedy Centrals and USA Networks. Digital media buyers at agencies are also reporting more upfront invites from cable networks with rich Web content.

"Media is more and more splintered and yet the cost-per-thousand keeps going up," says Sharon John, general manager at Hasbro, which spends much of its marketing dollars in cable TV. "You've got to change the game and part of changing the game is finding multiple touch-point marketing opportunities" where a single message tries to hit a similar consumer over and over and over again in a short period of time.

Ms. John recently worked with Nickelodeon on a major multiplatform advertising deal around the network's Kids Choice Awards. The deal promoted Hasbro's Tiger brand of youth-oriented consumer electronics products and lived in on-air spots and billboards, an online voting contest and co-branded magazine ads.

"I don't look at Nick or Cartoon Network as this classic business deal where I give you money, here's my spot, and you run it," she says. "We're always looking at much more leverage-able relationships."


Jim Perry, senior VP-ad sales for Viacom's Nickelodeon, suggests a key ingredient to working advertisers into multiplatform packages is building it around a big event such as the Kids Choice Awards. For Mr. Perry, the demand for such programs has become so great that he recently combined the brand's three sales staffs-one for on-air, another for online and a third for the magazine-into a single staff, a move that follows a similar one ESPN made last year. It makes it "better communication and cooperation among the moving parts," he says. But it's not just youth-targeted nets that are moving into the digital space.

Lifetime has quietly developed a bevy of interactive opportunities it will bring to advertisers this year in the upfront, doubling the amount of games it produces for the 70% female casual gaming market. Games include Cinema Sequence, which targets movie buffs, and creative games such as our Perfect Prom Dress, a fashion design game. While some of the free online games are ad-supported, others have created ancillary revenue for the network, which charges up to $19.99 for its downloadable games.

"It's a new form of escape for women," says Kris Soumas, VP-interactive for Lifetime Entertainment Services. Late last year she embarked on a trip to South Korea where she found avatars to be popular with women and has developed games based upon them.

Scripps Networks, an early leader in the interactive space, is preparing a universal video player to make use of its hundreds of hours of archived videos that are currently sitting in the virtual closet. The idea, says Jeff Meyer, senior VP-interactive sales, is advertisers have huge demand for online video and Scripps has a wealth of video it hasn't been able to access through search and other plays. The new player, targeted for a May introduction, allows users to search and view more than 5,000 different home, food and DIY-related archived clips from the shows.

"We expect our capacity to accept video advertising to grow as users understand the video offerings," he says.

Some question whether the stampede to post TV video content online and get advertisers as much online exposure on cablers' sites is leading to poor judgment calls-a second Internet bubble, if you will. Rainbow Media's IFC, whose commercial-free on-air environment makes it perhaps the most suited to and dependent on integrated marketing, has launched an online Media Lab where users can upload short films to Media Lab, compete for a chance to screen the film on the channel, view and rank other filmmakers' projects, and create a filmmaker profile.

"We're sending people from on-air to the Web site and from the site to on-air," says Alan Klein, VP-integrated partnerships at Rainbow Media's IFC, which recently launched an online Media Lab to be a hub for user-generated short films and, soon a community site, something USA Network also announced last month it would be creating. PepsiCo's Aquafina is a sponsor of Media Lab and all the promotions around it.

But while IFC feels it's on the cutting edge of convergence, it's cautioning against the reckless abandon with which some media companies and advertisers are using the online video space.

"Almost everybody feels marketing inside video online is going to be an enormous growth opportunity and I don't disagree with it, but if you just stick an ad in front of a video of a kid lip-synching Backstreet Boys in China?" he asks, with a healthy dose of skepticism. "But if you make a short film for a client and you put it in a short-film section of a site where people are looking for that type of content, it's going to be more effective. I think the industry needs to take a breath."

Soon Evan Shapiro, general manager at IFC, says it expects to be able to add contextual relevance to the advertising on Media Lab. Imagine, he says, if we can look at the viewer who comes to the site and say this is the viewer who likes luxury cars, and then feed that person a short film about Acura.

Despite the hype. Lifetime Exec VP-Interactive Entertainment Lynn Picard agrees not every opportunity is going to make sense. "You can't just slap on a marketer's logo [on a promotion]," she says.
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